Overcoming Odds for Competitive Bus Funding

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Overview

RiverCities Transit (RCT) is a small public transit agency in Southwest Washington that provides public bus services to the communities of Longview and Kelso. In 2015, nearly half of RCT’s buses had reached or exceeded their useful life. RCT also lacked an adequate transit center capable of meeting its operational needs and supporting the local community’s demand for service growth.

RCT faced significant funding gaps to meet these needs. While frequent bus replacement is needed to maintain a fleet in a state of good repair, bus purchases represent a substantial investment. Furthermore, RCT could not fund construction of a new transit center without diverting funds from critical operational needs. To fill the funding gap, RCT sought federal support through the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Bus and Bus Facility Program, which makes federal resources available to replace buses and related equipment. RiverCities Transit called upon CFM to help fund both a bus replacement grant and redevelopment of its downtown transit center.

Challenge

The FTA’s Bus and Bus Facility grant program is highly competitive and recent budget reductions by Congress have further limited the program’s already scarce funds. As a small operation with few administrative staff and limited resources, RCT faced an uphill battle competing with larger transit agencies across the country that were also pursuing funding from the program.  

However, without receiving an award from the FTA, RCT would be unable to meet the costs of replacing aging buses and constructing a transit center. Continuing to operate its existing fleet would result in rising maintenance costs and less reliable service to riders in the local community.

Approach

Knowing the competitiveness of the grant program and the limited resources of RiverCities Transit, CFM took on the responsibility to draft the two grant proposals from scratch. Based off insights from FTA, CFM strategically crafted the proposal to answer questions posed in the application. Knowing further advocacy would be needed to win the awards, CFM worked with the Washington congressional delegation to provide tours, secure letters of support and request strategically targeted phone calls to FTA in support of the grant.

Result

Despite FTA’s program being oversubscribed 8:1 and FTA only awarding 61 grants nationwide, both of RCT’s requests were funded. RCT was able to overcome the long odds and immense nationwide competition to be the only entity in the country to secure two grants in the 2016 round. Together, these grants totaled $3.6 million to meet critical needs of RCT.

Following the award announcements, CFM worked with the congressional delegation and cities on press releases announcing the award. Today, RCT is working to implement both projects using the federal grant funds.