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FTA Activities that Promote Environmental Sustainability

Environmental sustainability is one of the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) key performance goals.  FTA grants, research, technical assistance, and policy leadership assist state and local governments in providing environmentally sustainable transportation solutions.


The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) manages $10 billion annually in federal funds to support public transportation, which, as explained, can have multiple environmental benefits.

FTA's largest grant program is the urbanized area formula program, which provides funding for capital expenses, such as purchasing buses, to transit agencies in urban areas based on population size and other factors.  The Major Capital Investments program, also known as New Starts and Small Starts, funds capital costs for building new transit systems and expanding existing systems.

In addition the agency's main grant programs, targeted grant programs seek additional environmental benefits.

  • The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) authorized $100 million for a new discretionary grant program to public transit agencies for capital investments that reduce the energy consumption or greenhouse gas emissions of their public transportation systems.  Program funds purchased hybrid electric buses, built wind turbines, installed solar panels, and launched several other environmental projects.  In recognition of its success, Congress appropriated additional funding for the program in 2010. 
  • The Alternative Transportation in Parks and Public Lands program protects environmentally sensitive national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and other federal lands while improving visitor experience through funding public transportation and other alternative transportation.
  • The Clean Fuels Grant program assists non-attainment and maintenance areas in achieving or maintaining the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone and carbon monoxide (CO).  The program also supports emerging clean fuel and advanced propulsion technologies for transit buses and markets for those technologies.
  • National Fuel Cell Technology Development program facilitates the development of commercially viable fuel cell bus technologies and related infrastructure.
  • In 2010, the Secretary announced $280 million in FTA bus and urban circulator grants targeted to projects that meet livability and sustainability criteria.

FTA also provides incentives for strong environmental practices. 

  • FTA covers a greater share of total project costs for those projects that purchase clean or alternative fuel buses and equipment. 
  • Costs associated with the application and process for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification are eligible capital expenses under FTA grant programs.  Also eligible are the construction material costs associated with using "green" materials for LEED certification." 
  • FTA’s grants can fund bicycle paths and sidewalks, helping residents better access transit and get around emissions free.  See FTA Livability Policies and Provisions.

Finally, in the administration of its grants, FTA ensures compliance with environmental statutes (see Environmental Analysis and Review).

For more information, please see: FTA's Grant Programs page.

Research and Promotion of Innovation

FTA's research program supports the development and refinement of energy efficient technologies and alternative fuels.  FTA focuses on improving fuel cell, electric, and hybrid electric bus propulsion technology, such as improved energy storage technologies and charging technologies, and demonstrating feasibility of systems incorporating these technologies in transit buses. These technologies provide energy and emissions benefits compared with conventional buses.

Transit agencies maintain fleets of vehicles, manage them centrally, and utilize central fueling facilities.  While transit vehicles constitute a small percentage of the total number of vehicles used in the United States, the nature of transit vehicles and management of public vehicle fleets provide a practical working laboratory for research and demonstration.  For example, transit vehicles can more easily use alternative fuel sources as they do not need to rely on commercial gas stations.  Technologies demonstrated on transit buses can be adapted to and used on other types of vehicles and thus broaden the impact of the investment.  Finally, transit buses typically operate in densely populated areas, offering high visibility and impact from broader public exposure and acceptance.

Technical Assistance


FTA’s metropolitan and statewide planning programs provide funding and technical assistance to assist state and local planning activities, including environmental considerations.  FTA sponsored the development of the Transportation Economic Land Use System (TELUS)  ,  software that enables planners to assess land use implications.  FTA is currently funding enhancements to this software.  The Federal Highway Administration and FTA jointly provide the Transportation Planning Capacity Building Program which offers technical assistance and peer exchanges on a wide variety of planning issues, including smart growth and environmental issues.

Transit-Oriented Development and Joint Development

Transit-oriented development can reduce driving trips and transportation related emissions, improving air quality.  FTA explicitly allows FTA funds to be used for joint development, that is common use of property for transit and non-transit uses, facilitating transit-oriented development.  FTA also provides technical assistance in creating transit-oriented development through FTA funding for the Center for Transit Oriented Development and other activities.  Learn more about transit-oriented development.

Environmental Management Systems (EMS)

FTA offers EMS training and assistance to transit agencies.  EMS is a set of procedures to ensure that an organization’s daily operations comply with environmental regulations and support environmental stewardship objectives.  An EMS addresses various operation and management issues such as energy conservation, efficient water use, vehicle emission reduction, materials recycling, and management of hazardous materials.  Learn more about EMS training and assistance.

Ridership Initiative

The number of people who use transit is directly linked to transit's ability to provide environmental benefits.  FTA disseminates best practices to transit agencies on how to increase the number of people using transit through improving quality, service, information, fare media, etc and presents awards to agencies demonstrating success.  And transit ridership is up.  In 2008, Americans took 10.3 billion trips using public transportation, representing a 33 percent increase over 1995.  Learn more about innovative practices for increased ridership.

Policy Leadership

Environmental sustainability is a key goal of the Secretary of Transportation's signature livability initiative and a central element of the Sustainable Communities Partnership of the DOT, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency.  FTA plays a key role in these initiatives.

FTA also supports environmental sustainability through its membership in the U.S. Department of Transportation Center for Climate Change and Environmental Forecasting.  Through strategic research, policy analysis, partnerships and outreach, the Center creates comprehensive and multi-modal approaches to reduce transportation-related greenhouse gases and to mitigate the effects of global climate change on the transportation network.  FTA contributes funding and staff resources to the Center.

Updated: Wednesday, March 16, 2016
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