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Through the New Starts program, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) identifies and recommends new fixed-guideway transit projects for funding. The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) created a separate program, commonly called Small Starts, which is intended to offer a streamlined evaluation and rating process for smaller-scale transit projects. FTA subsequently introduced a separate eligibility category within the Small Starts program for "Very Small Starts" projects. These are simple, low-risk projects that qualify for a simplified evaluation and rating process. SAFETEA-LU requires GAO to annually review FTA's New Starts process. This report presents information on (1) FTA's fiscal year 2008 funding recommendations, (2) the extent to which the New Starts pipeline has changed over time, and (3) future projected trends for the New Starts and Small Starts pipelines. To address these objectives, GAO surveyed 215 project sponsors--78 percent of which responded--and interviewed FTA officials, 15 project sponsors, and 3 industry groups.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Federal Transit Administration To increase awareness and information sharing about the Small Starts, including Very Small Starts, application process, FTA should conduct training (in-person, Web-based, or both) for potential applicants and facilitate the development of a working group or community of practice.
Closed - Implemented
In response to our recommendation, FTA held two sessions on the Small Starts program this year, including one in Pittsburgh on April 22 and one in Phoenix one May 12, which were attended by a total of 120 individuals. As a result, project sponsors are better informed about the requirements for applying to both programs, potentially resulting in more complete applications and a more efficient evaluation process.
Federal Transit Administration To ensure that project sponsors better understand the types of corridor bus projects that are eligible for Small Starts funding, FTA should clarify in its Small Starts program guidance that bus rapid transit projects cannot already include any of the required elements for eligibility, or if they do, must demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of the preexisting elements.
Closed - Implemented
In response to our recommendation, FTA clarified Small Starts eligibility requirements in its 2007 Reporting Guidance. In addition, FTA proposed making the eligibility requirements for Small Starts projects more flexible in this year's Reporting Guidance, which was issued in April 2008.
Federal Transit Administration To ensure that the Small Starts program provides a streamlined application process as envisioned by SAFETEA-LU, FTA should continue to refine this process as outlined in the Small Starts program guidance. Examples of refinements include collapsing the project finance or cost worksheets to minimize the duplication of data to be submitted and providing specific guidance on how, when applicable, Small Starts applicants can conduct a simplified alternatives analysis.
Closed - Implemented
In response to our recommendation, FTA reduced duplicative reporting requirements in the 2007 Reporting Instructions and Templates. Furthermore, some reporting templates were reduced, shortened, or simplified. In addition, FTA identified a simplified alternatives analysis process for Small Starts and Very Small Starts projects in the 2007 Interim Small Starts Guidance.

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