The Urban Mass Transportation Administration's Involvement in Bus Specifications and TestingGao ID: CED-81-105 June 5, 1981
The Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) funds 80 percent of the cost of transit buses. GAO obtained views of representatives of UMTA, bus manufacturers, and six transit authorities on: (1) the rigidity of Federal bus specifications; (2) the difficulty local transit authorities have in deviating from the specifications; (3) the adequacy of manufacturers' vehicle warranties; (4) the adequacy of vehicle testing; and (5) the UMTA level of involvement in testing to ensure that buses purchased meet performance specifications. GAO also presented alternative ways of ensuring that vehicles purchased with Federal funds are reliable and meet performance requirements. UMTA has issued specifications for the type of bus that has primarily been purchased with transit funds in recent years. The specifications limit transit authorities' options and permit no deviations without UMTA approval. UMTA generally will not approve a deviation if it will be exclusionary. However, after competitive selection, UMTA will usually allow a change from the specifications if both the transit authority and the manufacturer agree.
Half of the transit authorities that GAO contacted never attempted to get UMTA approval to deviate from the specifications. One sought specification changes only after contract award. Officials differed on whether the specifications should be rescinded, but most of the transit authorities contacted wanted more flexibility in selecting options than those provided. Five transit authorities had experienced serious bus problems including cracks in the bus undercarriages. Transit authorities were satisfied with their advanced design bus warranties and generally considered the manufacturer's performance in resolving warranty problems to be adequate. The only substantive testing of advanced design buses has been by bus manufacturers, and testing has been limited to identifying obvious defects. Transit officials felt that buses should undergo more testing and that the Federal Government should have a greater role in the testing. UMTA could require every bus model to undergo performance testing and make the test results available to the transit industry. Bus models that fail to meet one or more of the performance requirements could be designated by UMTA as ineligible for purchase with Federal funds or be penalized by a predetermined price offset to reflect the vehicle's failure. A manufacturer could correct the deficiencies and have the vehicle retested. If the specifications are made optional or eliminated, UMTA could disseminate the results of performance testing. UMTA could sponsor and fund a quality control inspection procedure for the transit industry.