FTA Announces $84.4 Million in Low-No Emission Bus Grants

August 24, 2018

Today, the Federal Transit Administration announced the recipients of $84.4 million in grants to local transit agencies for the purchase of low-emission or zero-emission buses and related equipment.

Called the Low-No program for short, the total funding amount got a boost from the usual $55 million per year out of the FTA Formula Grants account from the extra money provided from the general fund of the Treasury as part of the two-year budget deal enacted in February.

The Trump Administration continued the trend it started last year of spreading the grant money for the program more widely. A total of 52 grants were made with the 2018 money, just as 51 grants were made last year. This compares to only 20 grants for FY 2016 under the Obama Administration, which means that average grant sizes are well below the Obama levels, but more cities get to share the money.

FTA Low-No Emission Bus Grants
(Millions of dollars)
FY13-14 FY15 FY16 FY17 FY18
Total Funding $54.469 $22.500 $55.000 $54.992 $84.449
Number of grants 10 7 20 51 52
Average (Mean) Grant $5.45 $3.215 $2.750 $1.078 $1.624
Largest Grant $9.803 $5.247 $3.905 $1.750 $2.290
Median Grant $5.353 $3.336 $3.021 $1.000 $1.500
Smallest Grant $1.003 $1.310 $0.683 $0.408 $0.403

The grant size matters because electric buses (and almost all of the grants go for electric, zero-emission buses, not the lower-emission kind that still use internal combustion engines) are not cheap – they can cost around a million dollars each.

The average (mean) grant is just the total dollar amount for the program divided by the number of grants. But a better way to look at a long list of numbers and finding the middle ground is the “median” calculation, which is the number closest to the middle of the list. Example: suppose that Bill Gates or Warren Buffett moves into your neighborhood. The average (mean) net household worth in the neighborhood would skyrocket because umpteen billion dollars of wealth have been added to the neighborhood wealth total (numerator) but only one more household has been added to the total number of households (denominator). But the median household net worth in the neighborhood would not change very much because the number of households on the list would only increase by one, so the median would only move up one notch on the list.

In essence, median is a much better tool for looking past the effects that outliers (really small or really large grants) have on a list of grants. In the case of 2018, the median and mean grants were not far apart ($1.50 million versus $1.62 million, respectively).

In 2018, the two largest transit agencies that operate the most buses (New York and Los Angeles) did not get any of the Low-No money. The third-largest agency, New Jersey Transit, did, and can put $1.5 million towards upgrading its fleet of 1,870 buses (operated in maximum service in 2015 according to APTA).

On the other end of the spectrum, the city of Arvin, California got one of the maximum-size grants ($2.29 million). We had never heard of Arvin, and Wikipedia reports that its population in the 2010 Census was 19,304. But it does already operate bus service (see here for details). Arvin is just south of Bakersfield, in the district of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), which may have had something to do with the selection.

(Ed. Note: If all you are concerned about are greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, then replacing two diesel buses with electric buses in Arvin, CA makes just as much sense as replacing two diesel buses with electric buses in New York City or Los Angeles (so long as they all run the same number of miles per day), since all GHG emissions are globally fungible. It’s only when you focus on non-GHG emissions – the kind that have more localized effects on the environment, the ones that the Clean Air Act and CMAQ were actually set up to address – that you can argue that big cities should get any kind of priority over small cities in reducing bus emissions. Not that the Trump Administration really cares about reducing GHG emissions, but it’s funny that GHG fungibility actually bolsters their overall aim to distribute grant money more widely and to more exurban and rural areas across the board.)

In the full grant list (see below), the Trump Administration trend of spreading grants among as many states as possible is obvious – 41 different states receive Low-No bus grants this time. (This approach inherently benefits red states, which are more numerous than blue states, but it also is a Senate-oriented way to do business.) Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) got two grants in his state, $1.5 million for Sun Valley and half of the Jackson Hole area grant. As usual, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Transportation-HUD Appropriations subcommittee, Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jack Reed (D-RI), also saw their home states get grants, since they are the ones who put almost $30 million in additional general fund money into the program this year.

The full list of FY 2018 Low-No grant recipients is below. FTA’s list which includes a description of what each grant will buy is here.

State City/County Sponsor Grant Amount
AK Juneau Alaska DOT $1,500,000
AL Jefferson County Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority $1,500,000
CA Arvin California DOT $2,290,000
CO Eagle County Colorado DOT $1,300,000
CO Breckenridge Colorado DOT $1,000,000
CO Summit County Colorado DOT $1,200,000
CO Estes Park Colorado DOT $403,266
FL Broward County Broward County Transit $2,225,000
FL Gainesville City of Gainesville $1,000,000
FL Pinellas County Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority $1,000,000
GA Chatham County Chatham Area Transit Authority $1,500,000
HI Statewide Hawaii DOT $1,500,000
ID Sun Valley Idaho DOT $1,500,000
IL Chicago Chicago Transit Authority $2,290,000
IN Indianapolis Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation $980,000
KS Wichita City of Wichita $2,290,000
KY Lexington Transit Authority of Lexington (Lextran) $2,290,000
LA Shreveport City of Shreveport $1,500,000
MA Martha’s Vineyard Massachusetts DOT $1,750,000
MD Frederick County Maryland Transit Administration $1,500,000
ME Greater Portland Maine DOT $2,290,000
MI Port Huron Blue Water Area Transportation Commission $1,500,000
MN Rochester City of Rochester $2,290,000
MO St. Louis Bi-State Development Agency $1,500,000
MS Jackson Jackson, City of $1,500,000
MT Missoula University of Montana $1,500,000
NC Greensboro City of Greensboro $1,900,000
NC Raleigh-Durham Research Triangle Regional Public Transportation Authority $943,000
NC Chapel Hill Town of Chapel Hill $1,382,000
NH Nashua City of Nashua, Nashua Transit System $1,105,000
NJ Camden New Jersey Transit Corporation $1,500,000
NM Los Alamos New Mexico  DOT $1,485,000
NV-CA Lake Tahoe Tahoe Transportation District $1,500,000
NY Tompkins County Tompkins County, NY $2,290,000
OH Lake County Laketran $2,290,000
OK Cherokee Nation Cherokee Nation $1,318,600
OR Portland Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon $2,290,000
PA Philadelphia Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority $1,500,000
RI Statewide Rhode Island Public Transit Authority $1,500,000
SC Charleston Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments $1,500,000
TN Chattanooga Chattanooga Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) $1,500,000
TX Port Arthur City of Port Arthur $2,225,000
TX San Antonio VIA Metropolitan Transit $2,000,000
UT Park City Utah DOT $2,290,000
VA Hampton Roads Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads $2,290,000
VT Montpelier Vermont Agency of Transportation $407,064
WA Grant County Washington DOT $1,330,060
WA Whatcom County Whatcom Transportation Authority $2,290,000
WI La Crosse City of La Crosse $1,250,000
WI Merrill Wisconsin DOT $1,475,000
WI Statewide Wisconsin DOT $1,500,000
WY-ID Jackson Hole – Teton Valley Wyoming DOT $2,290,000

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