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Other Important Federal Laws that Affect Public Transit


Other Important Federal Laws That Affect Public Transit

In addition to the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Title VI regulations , two other major federal regulations that affect the transit industry are the Buy American Law and the Environmental Justice Executive Order.

Buy American Law

In a nutshell, the Buy American law requires that all iron, steel and manufactured products used in at least a partially federally-funded project of more than $100,000 to be made in the U.S. with the exception of metallurgical processes that involve refinement of steel additives. For manufactured products to be considered produced in the U.S., all manufacturing processes for the product must take place in the U.S., and all components must be of U.S. origin.

For rolling stock (buses, rail cars) to be considered produced in the United States, the cost of components produced in the United States have to be more than 60% of the total cost and final assembly must take place in the United States. This last requirement is one of the many reasons Canadian bus manufacturers Flyer, Orion, and Nova have all built factories in the United States ( learn more about the different bus manufacturers and how, amongst other things, transit agencies consider the manufacturer while deciding what kind of bus to buy ).

Sometimes the Federal Transit Administration may grant waivers to allow for some components to be made in a foreign country. Typically, these waivers may be granted when use of U.S. materials would be inconsistent with the public interest, materials are not produced in the U.S. in sufficient and reasonably available quantities of a satisfactory quality, or that U.S. materials cost 25% more or higher than foreign products. In addition, these provisions generally do not apply to copyrighted material such as software.

Environmental Justice

While not a law per se, Environmental Justice Executive Order #12898 signed by President Clinton back in the 19994 still has the ability to affect transit agencies. The executive order mandates federal agencies, to, in the course of their work, ensure that the decisions they make avoid the concentration of pollution sources in low-income and minority communities that have traditionally had more LULUs (locally unwanted land uses such as oil refineries) than other areas. Transit agencies usually consider environmental justice in concert with Title VI ; the difference between the two is that Title VI is concerned with ensuring the equitable distribution of services while environmental justice is concerned with ensuring the equitable distribution of facilities. In addition, more recent environmental justice fights have been as concerned about the decision making process as they have been about the results.

In recent years public transit agencies have gone to a greater extent than in previous years to have a more inclusive public outreach process, by offering federally required public hearings in different places at different times and by actively engaging non-English speakers. For more information on how transit agencies have improved their public participation process, please see my article on that subject.

The siting of new transportation facilities, primarily bus garages and light and heavy rail years, has become increasingly difficult in recent years, not just because of environmental justice but also a general dislike of having industrial facilities like these located anywhere near a residential area. For rail lines in particular the yard location is difficult. When you consider that rail lines are generally designed to serve corridors that have large populations (which will mean a higher ridership) and that for obvious reasons must have yards located along the line, the possibility of friction becomes apparent ( perhaps these disgruntled people should read my article about how living near rail transit will likely increase their property values ).


When transit agencies are considering major capital purchases they should definitely keep in mind the Buy America Act, although in general all major foreign suppliers of American public transit systems have had American outlets available for sometime. The issue of environmental justice should be kept in mind, in tandem with Title VI, as transit agencies consider major route and schedule changes, installation of stop improvements, and especially the location of new bus and rail facilities.

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