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Frequently Asked Questions

These FAQs do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way. These FAQs are intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies. FTA recipients and subrecipients should refer to FTA’s statutes and regulations for applicable requirements.


Direct recipients receive funding directly from FTA. Designated recipients have been designated by the state governor or his/her designee to receive and/or sub-allocate.


Eligible applicants are defined as eligible recipients or sub-recipients Section 5307, Section 5310 or Section 5311 funding.  A State Department of Transportation may apply on behalf of eligible entities within its state. 


There is not a set timeframe within which projects must complete the process leading up to a construction grant agreement. Some projects naturally take longer than others to develop because of project complexity, size, number of project partners involved, and/or amount of non-CIG capital funding needed for the project.

There are some timeframes that project sponsors should keep in mind:

  • New Starts and Core Capacity projects are required by law to complete the Project Development phase within two years of entering that phase. While the law provides for an extension to the two year timeframe, this is expected to be the rare exception rather than the rule. Thus, FTA advises project sponsors to do “up front” work in advance of seeking entry into Project Development to ensure they can complete the Project Development activities within two years.
  • Within three years of granting New Starts or Core Capacity projects approval to enter the Engineering phase, or within three years of Small Starts projects entering the Project Development phase, FTA expects project sponsors to make sufficient progress on their projects.  This includes obtaining funding commitments for at least half of the non-CIG capital funding needed for the project, and advancing the level of project design.

Eligible applicants include designated recipients, states, local governmental authorities, and Indian tribes. Eligible subrecipients may partner with eligible recipients but cannot be the primary applicant.


No. Under previous Section 5310 program, States could transfer funds to an apportionment under Section 5307 or 5311(c). This transfer provision is no longer permitted by law.


No. Only operators of public transportation systems that are subject to this rule must develop and implement SMS processes.

To reduce the administrative, financial, and regulatory burdens on small public transportation providers, FTA has developed a condensed SMS framework for operators of 100 or fewer vehicles in peak revenue service. Small public transportation providers only need to develop processes for safety performance monitoring and measurement. A process for safety performance and monitoring will enable the agency to monitor its system for compliance with the agency’s procedures for operations and maintenance and identify and address inefficiencies. The process ensures that mitigations are implemented, adhered to, and effective.


An applicant may submit a request for a waiver or modification of FTA requirements to the dedicated FTA e-mail address:, with a copy sent to the appropriate FTA Regional Administrator. FTA staff will coordinate the review of the request with the PIPP Steering Committee and the Regional Administrator. The FTA Administrator will notify the grant recipient in writing as to whether the request for modification or waiver is approved or denied.

If an application is approved, FTA will negotiate an Early Development Agreement (EDA) with the project sponsor to establish the parameters of the approved application.


If you are a provider of public transportation, you are an eligible applicant. According to Federal transit law (49 U.S.C. § 5302(14)), the term “public transportation” means regular, continuing shared-ride surface transportation services that are open to the general public or open to a segment of the general public defined by age, disability, or low income; and does not include:

  • passenger rail transportation provided by the entity described in chapter 243 (or a successor to such entity);
  • intercity bus service;
  • charter bus service;
  • school bus service;
  • sightseeing service;
  • courtesy shuttle service for patrons of one or more specific establishments; or
  • intra-terminal or intra-facility shuttle services.

Eligible projects for HOPE funds include planning, engineering, or development of technical, or financing plans for projects eligible under Chapter 53 of title 49 United States Code. 


Project sponsors wishing to enter the Project Development phase as a New Starts, a Small Starts, or a Core Capacity project should submit a letter to the Associate Administrator for FTA’s Office of Planning and Environment that includes the following information:

  • The name of the study sponsor, any partners involved in the study, and the roles and responsibilities of each
  • Identification of a project manager and other key staff that will perform the Project Development work
  • A brief description and clear map of the corridor being studied including its length and key activity centers
  • The transportation problem in the corridor or a statement of purpose and need
  • Identification of a proposed project if one is known and alternatives to that project if any are being considered
  • Identification of a cost estimate for the project, if available
  • Identification of whether the project would be a New Starts, Small Starts, or Core Capacity project
  • A brief description of current levels of transit service in the corridor today
  • Electronic copies of or weblinks to prior studies done in the corridor, if any
  • The anticipated cost to complete Project Development, not including the cost of any work done prior to officially entering the Project Development phase
  • Identification of the non-CIG capital funding available and committed to conduct the Project Development work
  • Documentation demonstrating commitment of funds for the Project Development work (e.g. Board resolutions, adopted budgets, approved Capital Improvement Programs, approved Transportation Improvement Programs, letters of commitment)
  • If the project is a New Starts or Core Capacity project, an anticipated draft timeline for completing the following activities (which should demonstrate the ability to complete the Project Development work within 2 years as prescribed in FAST):
    • compliance with NEPA and related environmental laws;
    • selection of a locally preferred alternative;
    • adoption of the locally preferred alternative in the fiscally constrained long range transportation plan;
    • completion of the activities required to obtain a project rating under the evaluation criteria outlined in the law
    • completion of the readiness requirements for entry into Engineering; and
    • anticipated receipt of a construction grant agreement from FTA
    • anticipated start of revenue service
  • If the project is a Small Starts project, an anticipated timeline for completing the following activities:
    • compliance with NEPA and related environmental laws;
    • selection of a locally preferred alternative;
    • adoption of the locally preferred alternative in the fiscally constrained long range transportation plan;
    • completion of the activities required to obtain a project rating under the evaluation criteria outlined in the law; and
    • anticipated receipt of a construction grant agreement from FTA
    • anticipated start of revenue service

If the state or local government is a provider of public transportation, whether operated by its own staff or by a contractor, it is an eligible applicant.  State and local governments that do not provide public transportation may serve as the applicant if they are submitting an application representing a project within their state or regional project on behalf of a public transportation provider(s).


Eligible Projects will be selected based upon the following criteria:

Demonstration of Need:  The quality and extent to which they demonstrate how the proposed activities will support planning, engineering, or development of technical, or financing plans that would result in a project eligible for funding under Chapter 53 of Title 49 United States Code. 

Demonstration of Benefits:  How the proposed planning, engineering, or development of technical, or financing plans that address the existing condition of the transit system, improve the reliability of transit service for its riders, enhance access and mobility within the service area, or accelerate innovation in areas of persistent poverty.

System Condition: The potential for the planning, engineering, or development of technical, or financing plans to lead to an improvement in the condition of the transit system in areas of persistent poverty.

Service Reliability: The potential for the planning, engineering, or development of technical, or financing plans to lead to a reduction in the frequency of breakdowns or other service interruptions caused by the age and condition of the agency’s bus fleet, and improve system reliability. 

Enhanced Access and Mobility: The potential for the planning, engineering, or development of technical, or financing plans to lead to improved access and mobility for the transit riding public, such as through increased reliability, improved headways, creation of new transportation choices or eliminating gaps in the current route network. 

Accelerating Innovation: The potential for the planning, engineering, or development of technical, or financing plans to accelerate the introduction of innovative technologies or practices such as integrated fare payment systems permitting complete trips or advancements to propulsion systems.  Innovation can also include practices such as new public transportation operational models, financial or procurement arrangements, or value capture strategies.

Emissions Reductions: The potential for the planning study, engineering study, or development of technical, or financing plans with a project partner to lead to reduced vehicle emissions as a potential outcome.

Barriers to Low Income Housing: The degree to which the planning study, engineering study, or technical or financial plans identify proposed actions that reduce regulatory barriers that unnecessarily raise the costs of housing development or impede the development of affordable housing.

Regional Support:  Evidence of regional or local support for the proposed project.  Documentation may include support letters from local and regional planning organizations, local governmental officials, public agencies and/or non-profit or private sector partners attesting to the need for the project.

Improving Rural Transportation:  Consistent with the Department's R.O.U.T.E.S. Initiative (, the Department recognizes that rural transportation networks face unique challenges. To the extent that those challenges are reflected in the merit criteria listed in this section, FTA will consider how the activities proposed in the application will address those challenges, regardless of the geographic location of those activities.


No. Recipients in areas under 200,000 should contact the State agency responsible for administering the 5310 program. Recipients in this area are eligible as subrecipients for the State for 5310 program funds. Unlike the 5307 program, by law, FTA is not permitted to award grants under this program directly to agencies in areas under 200,000. The only eligible direct recipient for these areas under this program is the State agency.


Only designated recipients of FTA funds, states, local governmental authorities and Indian tribes are eligible to apply for funds. If you are unsure about whether you can apply for funding, please contact your FTA Regional Office or your state’s Department of Transportation.


The waiver or modification request is the formal documentation of an applicant’s request for the use of an experimental procedure in the project development process.

The request must include the following information for it to be considered complete and reviewed by FTA:

  1.   Provide a brief project description.
  2.   Identify whether the project is to be delivered as a public-private partnership, as a joint development, or with another private sector investment.
  3.   Describe in detail the role of the private sector investor, if any, in delivering the project.
  4.   Identify the specific FTA requirement(s) that the recipient requests to have modified or waived and a proposal as to how the requirement(s) should be modified.
  5.   Provide a justification for the modification(s) or waiver(s), including an explanation of how the FTA requirement(s) presents an impediment to a public-private partnership, joint development, or other private sector investment.
  6.   Explain how the public interest and public investment in the project will be protected and how FTA can ensure the appropriate level of public oversight and control, as determined by the FTA Administrator, is undertaken if the modification(s) or waiver(s) is allowed.
  7.   Provide other recipients’ concurrence with the submission of the application and waiver of the right to submit a separate application for the same project, where a project has more than one recipient at the time of application.
  8.   Provide a financial plan identifying sources and uses of funds proposed or committed to the project.
  9.   Explain the expected benefits that the modification or waiver of FTA requirements would provide to mitigate impediments to the greater use of public-private partnerships and private investment in the project. 

FTA’s National Public Transportation Safety Plan provides an overview of SMS. Additionally, FTA publishes other SMS resources on its website as they are developed. Individuals may access those resources at The Transportation Safety Institute offers online and in-person courses on SMS for public transportation.


During Project Development, prior to the completion of the environmental review process required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), FTA will work with project sponsors to assess the strengths and weaknesses of alternatives still under consideration and provide technical assistance on how to meet the requirements to enter Engineering. Technical assistance may include workshops or other methods focusing on the readiness requirements to enter Engineering.

Formal oversight will generally begin at the completion of NEPA and will be tailored based on the how far the project has advanced in design, the complexity of the project, and the project sponsor’s capability to undertake engineering and construction.


If the MPO is a provider of public transportation under Federal transit law, then it is an eligible applicant.  All MPOs, regardless of whether they provide public transportation services, are eligible as a project partner.


Under certain circumstances, a for-profit taxi company may be an eligible subrecipient under this program. As defined in MAP-21, eligible subrecipients for this program are a State governmental authority, a private non-profit organization, or an operator of public transportation that receives a grant under this section indirectly through a recipient. Therefore, some for-profit taxi companies may be eligible under the latter section of the definition.

Under previous policy, FTA declared taxi companies that provide shared-ride taxi service to the public or a segment of the population as operators of public transportation (see FTA FAQs for the Section 5310, 5316, and 5317 programs). Assuming the project is eligible under the section 5310 program, as amended by MAP-21, and the service provided is shared-ride, the company may be an eligible subrecipient.

“Shared ride” means two or more passengers in the same vehicle who are otherwise not traveling together. Similar to general public and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) demand response service, every trip does not have to be shared-ride in order for a taxi company to be considered a shared-ride operator, but the general nature of the service must include shared rides.

Local (municipal/State) statutes or regulations, or company policy, will generally determine whether a taxi company provides shared-ride or exclusive-ride service. For example, if the local regulation permits the driver to determine whether or not a trip may be shared, the service is not shared-ride. Similarly, if the regulation requires the consent of the first passenger to hire a taxi be obtained before the taxi may take an additional riders, the service is not shared-ride. In essence, services which can be reserved for the exclusive use of individuals or private groups, either by the operator or the first passenger’s refusal to permit additional passengers, is exclusive-ride taxi service, and is not shared ride. A recipient passing funds through to a taxi company subrecipient should request documentation from the taxi company to assure the company is providing shared-ride service. Under certain conditions, the taxi service may also be eligible as a third party contractor.


Yes, a Chief Safety Officer or SMS Executive also can be responsible for security in their transit system. In rail transit systems, Chief Safety Officers cannot have additional operational and maintenance responsibilities, they must be dedicated to ensuring safety within the system as a full-time responsibility. Rail transit agencies may petition FTA to allow its Chief Safety Officer to serve multiple roles given administrative and financial hardships with having a single, dedicated, and full-time Chief Safety Officer. Similarly, FTA recommends bus transit systems that operate more than 100 vehicles in peak revenue service to have a dedicated Chief Safety Officer, given the increased safety risks in those systems, although, this is not a requirement.

Small transit providers who are Section 5307 Grant Program recipients and subrecipients may have their Chief Safety Officer serve other functions, including the areas of operations, maintenance, and grant administration. For these transit agencies, the Chief Safety Officer may be a full-time employee of the transit system who has responsibility for duties other than safety, a part-time employee of the transit system, or a contractor.  To illustrate, in a small bus agency, the general manager or operations manager may be the same individual as the Chief Safety Officer or SMS Executive.


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