MAP-21 Encourages and Funds Technology Upgrades in Transit

On July 6, 2012 President Obama signed into law a new two-year transportation authorization, known as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21). The law authorizes $10.6 billion in FY 2013 and $10.7 billion in FY 2014 for public transportation. One of the most important goals of the law is to improve the state of good repair (SGR) of our transportation system, while increasing the safety of our public transit infrastructure. To further these goals, the law establishes for the first time that agencies adopt Transit Asset Management (TAM) best practices that incorporate performance-based planning requirements. Under these requirements, federal funding is subject to meeting key goals, for which transit agencies must track their progress.

While MAP-21 promises to improve our transit system, it may also bring unique challenges to transit agencies since they will have to collect and report more data to the Federal Transit Administration. In drafting this legislation, however, Congress recognized the need for making this process more efficient by allowing agencies to use federal funding for operational equipment, including hardware and software. In this article we describe how agencies can meet these challenges. In order to comply with Map-21, agencies are encouraged to use available federal funds to purchase or upgrade their enterprise asset management software. As the “system of record” for assets (work history, condition and capital replacement schedules), EAM software is uniquely suited to help state and local transit agencies meet and exceed the MAP-21 requirements.

Transit Management Planning Matters

In light of the sluggish economy, more than ever, transit agencies around the nation must face the challenge of maximizing resources to maintain and upgrade their systems. This is even more difficult when a large amount of our nation’s transit assets are reaching their recommended useful lives. Declining assets that have not been rehabilitated or replaced can lead to increased operating costs as well as decreases in safety and on-time service, which eventually affects ridership levels. Overall the FTA estimates that it will cost $78 billion (in 2009 dollars) to address the national SGR backlog. That is, the costs of rehabilitating or replacing all of the transit assets in the U.S. which are currently beyond their useful life. Since resources are scarce, agencies need a TAM plan and software tools to prioritize their capital investments and allocate their resources efficiently to manage their existing assets.

State of Good Repair Requirements

In response to the large backlog of SGR, under the new law Congress allocated as much as $2.1 billion in FY 2013 and $2.2 billion in FY 2014 for SGR Grants. Under 49 U.S.C. §5337, state and local government agencies in urbanized areas with fixed guideway public transportation facilities may now obtain federal funds to replace and rehabilitate their infrastructure. Eligible infrastructure for funding under this provision includes: rolling stock, track, line equipment and structures, signals and communications, power equipment and substations, passenger stations and terminals, as well as security equipment and systems. To obtain funding, however, the new law requires all FTA grantees and their sub recipients to develop TAM plans.  According to §5326, the plans must include capital asset inventories and condition assessments, as well as investment prioritization. Moreover, recipients must periodically report the condition of their system and indicate whether there have been any changes since their last report. They must also set SGR performance targets and report their progress towards meeting them.  As part of the performance-based planning process (§5303, 5304), metropolitan planning organizations, states and recipients are required to coordinate their targets.

The FTA has made clear that TAM plans and performance-based planning requirements are essential building blocks for the National Transit Asset Management System envisioned by MAP-21. This is evidenced by FTA’s issuance of its October 3, 2013 advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) regarding the National Safety Program and the requirements of the new National TAM System. The ANPRM discusses different approaches to define SGR. This is a fundamental step in guiding agencies during the implementation of their TAM plans and establishment of performance targets. The information provided by transit agencies will be used to help prioritize asset investment and formulate a transportation improvement program (TIP), as well as a statewide transportation improvement program (STIP). The definition of SGR will also be incorporated into the National Public Transit Safety Plan and into each public transportation agency safety plan.

The comment period for the October 3, 2013 ANPRM closed on January 2, 2014. However, additional guidance is expected as the FTA continues to move forward with the implementation of the National Safety Program.

Using Technology to Meet the New Requirements

While MAP-21 seeks to help recipients allocate funds efficiently, complying with it may be challenging for many agencies. Fortunately, the new law makes funding available for the development and implementation of TAM plans and enterprise asset management software. Indeed, agencies will be better off by taking advantage of the incentives provided under the new law.

To further facilitate the implementation of TAM plans, software companies have already developed transit-specific EAM software which offer SGR and Capital Planning packages. When selecting EAM software, agencies should look for commercial off-the-shelf solutions with the following standard functionality: full lifecycle management of your entire asset infrastructure in a single system; comprehensive work order functionality; and robust materials management features. The top EAM software packages also offer a data-driven approach to help agencies perform two additional critical functions: (i) track asset condition (state of good repair), and (ii) capital project prioritization functionality to support their requests for future capital funds. Having all assets and condition ratings in a single database allows for more consistent (and transparent) capital planning decisions across your agency’s maintenance divisions (rolling stock, facilities, as well as maintenance of way and linear/track for properties that have rail). Collecting this data in an EAM system puts an agency in a much stronger position to secure their portion of the limited capital funding FTA has available. Lastly, agencies are well-advised to select a transit-specific EAM solution over generic asset/work order systems developed for other industries.  The transit-based solutions remain current with industry trends, and reduce the administrative burdens imposed by the FTA’s reporting requirements by, for example, offering features such as out of the box National Transit Database reporting. EAM solutions are a vital tool for meeting the ultimate objective of MAP-21: helping agencies prioritize their capital reinvestment needs to ensure their assets are safe to operate. 

Conclusion

Overall, the MAP-21 legislation recognizes the importance of modernizing our nation’s transit infrastructure in an era of ever more limited resources. Moreover, in light of FTA’s recent ANPRM, it is clear that TAMs and EAM software (including condition tracking and capital planning functionality) are the cornerstones of the nation-wide transit safety program. Therefore, instead of viewing the challenges ahead as limitations, the new legislation encourages the champions of our nation’s transit to embrace technology and innovation to bring our transit system into the next generation.

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