Transit Fleet

Data source: Washington State Department of Transportation.

Note: In 2015, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT)changed its methodology for calculating a transit fleet vehicle’s minimum useful life to include vehicle age or mileage to better align with the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) definition. WSDOT originally used only vehicle age to determine its minimum useful life. With the change in methodology, vehicles are assigned an age threshold and a mileage threshold. When one of the two thresholds is reached, the vehicle has reached its minimum useful life. This does not mean the vehicle is unsafe or cannot continue to be used.

In 2016, 40.2% of transit fleet vehicles in Washington state exceeded the FTA’s definition of minimum useful life. This is an increase from 2015 when 34.6% of transit fleet vehicles exceeded minimum useful life. The state’s vanpool vehicles are highly represented in this aging fleet. Washington state has the largest publicly owned and operated vanpool fleet in the nation. Vans are categorized as light-duty vehicles by the FTA. Due to the state’s larger than average vanpool fleet, vans are over-represented in the light-duty vehicle category when compared to the fleets of other states.

Vans have shorter life expectancies than other transit vehicles. This means more vans are transitioning past their minimum useful life in a shorter period of time compared to other light-duty transit vehicles. This in turn impacts the overall percentage of light-duty transit vehicles in Washington state that are past their minimum useful life.

With vanpools excluded from the original statistic presented at the beginning of this section, the percentage of vehicles exceeding their minimum useful life is reduced to 34.3% of the statewide transit fleet in 2016, and 30.2% in 2015.

The chart above shows the replacement costs for transit fleet vehicles that were beyond their minimum useful life in 2016.

In 2016, 51.7% of transit fleet vehicles that had exceeded their minimum useful life cost less than $50,000 per vehicle. This price range generally represents light-duty vehicles. Light-duty vehicles include passenger van pool vans, wheelchair accessible vans and minibuses. This is a slight decrease from 2015, when 54.3% of transit fleet vehicles beyond their minimum useful life had a replacement cost of less than$50,000.

Overall, these statistics indicate that the number of vehicles transitioning to beyond minimum useful life remains steady.

The two charts above illustrate the relationship between vehicle type and minimum useful life. Color gradients represent the stages of minimum useful life. The inner ring represents the percentage of vehicles by vehicle type. The outer ring represents total vehicles in the stages of minimum useful life--the lighter color represents vehicles that are beyond their minimum useful life, and the darker color represents vehicles that are not beyond their minimum useful life.

Vehicles operated by transit agencies in large urban areas make up 29.7% of the statewide fleet on average. Over 47% of these agencies’ fleets are beyond minimum useful life.

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Why is this a priority?

Public transit is a vital part of the state’s multimodal transportation system. Public transportation reduces congestion, helps maximize capacity on roadways, improves air quality, reduces fuel consumption, and connects people of all ages and abilities with their surrounding communities.

Public transit authorities in Washington state provided approximately 235 million passenger trips in 2016, an increase of 2.6% from 2015. Maintaining a transit fleet in good condition is critical to providing a safe, reliable and comfortable environment for operators and passengers alike.

A transit fleet’s condition also affectsridership. People are less likely to ride in vehicles that are in a state ofdisrepair.

32 public transit authorities provide services in Washington State in 2016:

  • Eight authorities serve large urban areas with populations more than 200,000
  • 11 authorities serve small urban areas with populations 50,000 to 200,000
  • 13 authorities serve small rural areas with populations less than 50,000

Washington's public transit fleet is composed of buses, minibuses, vans, passenger rail vehicles and ferry vessels. Local funds and grants from the FTA provide the majority of funding for the fleet, with the remainder funded by the state.

Transit authorities are responsible for maintaining their vehicles. WSDOT verifies each agency’s adherence to its asset management plan,and conducts visual vehicle inspections and audits of vehicle maintenance records to ensure compliance.

How are we doing?

As mentioned in previous sections, 40.2% of Washington state’s transit fleet vehicles exceeded their useful lives in 2016. Put another way, out of 8,778 vehicles in the statewide fleet, 3,532 have surpassed their minimum useful lives.

Deferment of vehicle replacement is likely to increase significantly from 2017 to 2020 unless funding is secured in addition to the Connecting Washington funding package. As vehicles get older, the cost of maintenance increases and vehicle reliability decreases. This impacts travel schedule predictability, which is likely to decrease transit ridership.

It would cost approximately $34.2 million to reduce the number of aging vehicles in the state’s fleet to meet the maximum target of 25%of vehicles beyond their useful lives in 2018. This estimate is based on replacing 1,338 of the least expensive vehicles that have surpassed their minimum useful lives.

Small urban and rural transit agencies have the largest percentages of vehicles exceeding the minimum useful life. Compared to larger transit agencies, small urban agencies rely more heavily on state funds, while rural agencies rely heavily on federal funds for capital purchases. State and federal funding sources tend to be less predictable than local funding sources,especially considering recent funding changes:

The FTA no longer funds buses as part of its Capital Investment Grants Program (§5309), which was a major source of funding for bus replacement. As a result, transit providers are paying for a larger share of their replacement and maintenance costs. Transit providers will defer replacement if they do not have the funds to cover these costs, which will affect the quality of the public transportation fleet.

In 2016, under the reduced Bus & Bus Facilities Infrastructure Investment Program (§5339), WSDOT received $13.3 million for bus and facilities rehabilitation and replacement. Of this amount, $3.2 million was allocated for rural and small urban areas. This new funding will allow WSDOT to work toward achieving the target of maintaining the percentage of the transit fleet that exceeds its minimum useful life at or below 25%. However, it will not close the gap.

What are we working on?

WSDOT will continue to work with transit agencies to reduce the percent of the transit fleet that exceeds its minimum useful life. Some of the strategies WSDOT has identified include:

  • Working with all transit authorities to collect annual fleet-condition data, conduct analysis and report on statewide fleet performance.
  • Working with all transit authorities to make improvements to their asset management plans through best practices, new technologies and procurement to maximize the useful life of their transit fleets.
  • Applying for federal competitive grants on behalf of rural transit authorities.
  • Using vehicle condition analysis tool to allocate state and federal capital grant funding to those transit authorities with the greatest need in an effort to enhance service quality, reliability and safety of public transit services.
  • Ensuring that transit authorities are compliant with FTA and Washington state Transit Asset Management Plan requirements for the FTA Public Transportation Programs. This will be achieved through the use of contractual agreements with transit agencies receiving competitively-awarded grant funds.
  • Working collaboratively with the Washington State Transit Association’s (WSTA) Maintenance Committee to develop strategies and plans to transition the state Transit Asset Management Plan to meet federal Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) reporting requirements. The committee has developed a proposed transition plan that includes:
  1. Definitions of State of Good Repair
  2. Annual asset inventory reporting, including a reporting form, annual report process and fleet performance measurement methodology
  3. Capital investment prioritization methodology Additionally, WSDOT will make recommendations for adapting the proposed transition plan upon FTA issuance of the final Transit Asset Management rules.
  • Implementing projects funded through the Connecting Washington package.

During the 2015 session, the Legislature passed the Connecting Washington package, increasing transit funding by over $600 million. The majority of the funding will support programs that will primarily fund construction projects over the next 16 years. A smaller percentage goes to operating costs and capital fleet replacement.

  • WSDOT has begun implementing Connecting Washington projects. Some impacts should be seen in the coming years.

However, even with the increased state funding, there are two main external factors that have caused the percentage of vehicles exceeding their minimum useful life to reduce slowly or even grow, as is the case for Sound Transit and small urban agencies:

  • During the 2008 recession, many transit authorities made the strategic decision to use capital reserve funds to maintain service to riders. Now, the depleted reserve funds cannot support vehicle replacement.
  • Congress changed the federal transit section of the §5309 program from a bus and fixed guideway program to fixed guideway capital investment grants. This shifted funding away from bus replacement,leading transit authorities to hold onto more assets past their minimum useful life.

These two issues have had a far greater impact on the statewide transit fleet than could be made up by the available Connecting Washington funding.

How can you help?

Visit these websites to learn more about public transportation in Washington state:

Public Transportation Division: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/transit/

Washington State Transit Association (WSTA): http://www.watransit.com/Pages/default.aspx

WSTA – Maintenance Committee: http://www.watransit.com/Pages/Maintenance.aspx

Washington State Transit Insurance Pool: http://www.wstip.org/default.aspx

Reported by: Washington State Department of Transportation