Do Modified Minivans Require Altoona Testing?
If you have been involved in purchasing or selling a bus or van where federal funds are involved, you have probably heard about Altoona Testing. What is Altoona Testing? Why does the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) require vehicles to go through this process when federal funding is being used? Are modified wheelchair-accessible minivans required to be Altoona Tested as well? In this article, we will answer those questions. Availability of federal funding to support the transportation needs of today is important, so understanding the Altoona Testing requirement by FTA is part of that process.
The New Model Bus Testing Program was established in 1987 by the FTA. Under this program, testing was required on all new model buses before they could be purchased with federal funds. The purpose of the program was to promote the production of better transit vehicles and components and to ensure that transit customers purchase safe vehicles able to withstand the challenges of transit service. By testing new bus models before they are purchased, grantees and
manufacturers can often address problems before the fleet is built. Potentially this could save considerable money, time, and avoid inconvenience to passengers.
This testing program has become known as “Altoona Testing” because the test facility is located in Altoona, Pennsylvania at the Larson Transportation Institute’s Bus Research and Testing Center. The Larson facility has four bus maintenance and test bays and is fully equipped to perform heavy vehicle maintenance, testing, and repair.
8 tests are performed on the vehicles that fall under the Altoona Testing program:
- Maintainability (includes accessibility)
- Safety (includes brake performance)
- Structural Integrity and Durability
- Fuel/Energy Economy
- Noise (interior and exterior)
Buses must meet a minimum performance standard in each of these categories to receive an overall passing score and be eligible for purchase using FTA financial assistance. Today's rule establishes a numerical scoring system based on a 100-point scale so that buyers can more effectively compare vehicles. Bus models that fail to meet one or more minimum performance standards will “fail” their test and would be ineligible for purchase with FTA funds until the failures are resolved.
One question that arises is whether a minivan is subject to Altoona Testing when federal funding is involved in a contract. Modified wheelchair-accessible minivans typically have dropped floors and revised suspensions. These are major changes from the stock van and therefore Altoona testing is required. There are also several wheelchair-accessible minivans that have Altoona Bus Testing Reports available for review.
The data from the tests for each vehicle are compiled into a test report that is made available to the manufacturer to provide information during the procurement process. If the manufacturer requests, recommendations for possible design changes or improvements are included. An FTA grantee must certify that it has received a copy of the test report prior to final acceptance of the first vehicle.
Bus Testing Reports are available under “Bus Database”, where they can be searched and filtered for comparisons between different bus and wheelchair-accessible minivan models.