Mass Transit:

Status of New Starts Program and Potential for Bus Rapid Transit Projects

GAO-02-840T: Published: Jun 20, 2002. Publicly Released: Jun 20, 2002.

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The Federal Transportation Administration's (FTA) New Starts Program helps pay for designing and constructing rail, bus, and trolley projects through full funding grant agreements. The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), authorized $6.1 billion in "guaranteed" funding for the New Starts program through fiscal year 2003. Although the level of New Starts funding is higher than ever, the demand for these resources is also extremely high. Given this high demand for new and expanded transit facilities across the nation, communities need to examine approaches that stretch the federal and local dollar yet still provide high quality transit services. Although FTA has been faced with an impending transit budget crunch for several years, it is likely to end the TEA-21 authorization period with $310 million in unused New Starts commitment authority if its proposed fiscal year 2003 budget is enacted. Bus Rapid Transit is designed to provide major improvements in the speed and reliability of bus service through barrier-separated busways, buses on High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes, or improved service on arterial streets. GAO found that Bus Rapid Transit was a less expensive and more flexible approach than Light Rail service because buses can be rerouted more easily to accommodate changing travel patterns. However, transit officials also noted that buses have a poor public image. As a result, many transit planners are designing Bus Rapid Transit systems that offer service that will be an improvement over standard bus service (see GAO-02-603).

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