MTI Reports on the State of Bus Manufacturing in the US

Bus Manufacturing (Photo: David Schmitz)

Bus Manufacturing (Photo: David Schmitz)

The United States transit bus manufacturing industry has changed considerably over the past two decades. Bus quality has improved and new technologies have resulted in increased reliability and a wider range of alternative fuel strategies, including battery-electric transit buses. Yet, this is a fragile industry due to low volume, changing regulations, and unstable federal funding. David Czerwinski and Jing Zhang, associate professors in San Jose State University’s Department of Marketing and Decision Sciences and  researchers at the Mineta Transportation Institute, conducted a comprehensive state of the industry analysis to better understand the challenges and opportunities facing bus manufacturers and to provide policymakers with recommendations to help move the industry forward while best serving the transit-riding public.

As noted in the report, The US Transit Bus Manufacturing Industry, manufacturing buses for the US transit market is a small market with volatile demand. Over the past two decades, annual spending on buses by US transit agencies has fluctuated between extremes of $1.4 billion and $3.1 billion (in 2014 dollars). According to Dr. David Czerwinski, principal investigator for this research, “Many manufacturers have gone bankrupt, left the market, or been acquired by competitors.”

Interviews conducted with industry stakeholders identified a number of challenges facing the industry. Notably, and despite increases in annual public transit funding under the new FAST Act, interviewees still felt that there was not enough funding to allow transit agencies to retire and upgrade their bus fleet in a timely fashion.

To ensure a thriving transit bus manufacturing industry that continues to improve the quality of buses, invests in R&D, and best serves the riding public, the authors have four recommendations for policymakers:

  • Work to ensure long-term, stable funding that builds on the FAST Act to allow transit agencies to make long-term purchasing plans for buses.
  • Continue to support research & development related to alternative fuels.
  • Facilitate an industry-wide conversation around standardization of battery-electric charging infrastructure and implement policies so that transit agencies aren’t penalized financially for adopting battery-electric technology.
  • Think carefully about whether this industry, due to its small size, is well positioned to take the lead on clean-air regulations that advance the nation’s environmental quality.

The report is available for free download from

David Czerwinski, Ph.D.
and Jing Zhang, Ph.D. are both Associate Professors in the Department of Marketing and Decision Sciences at San José State University. Xu (Cissy) Hartling, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Marketing and Decision Sciences at Salem State University.

The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) conducts research, education, and information transfer programs regarding surface transportation policy and management issues, especially related to transit. Congress established MTI in 1991 as part of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act. MTI won national re-designation competitions in 2002, 2006 and 2012. The Institute is funded through the US Department of Transportation, the US Department of Homeland Security, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants. The internationally respected members of the MTI Board of Trustees represent all major surface transportation modes. MTI, the lead institute for the nine-university Mineta National Transit Research Consortium, is affiliated with San Jose (CA) State University’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business. Visit

Head of Mineta Transportation Institute receives national award

Karen Philbrick, executive director, Mineta Transportation Institute and the Mineta National Transit Research Consortium.

Karen Philbrick, executive director, Mineta Transportation Institute and the Mineta National Transit Research Consortium.

Karen Philbrick, the executive director of Mineta National Transit Research Consortium (MNTRC) and the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI), has been awarded the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO) Women Who Move the Nation Award in the academia category.

“I am so incredibly honored to be the recipient of this fine distinction,” said Philbrick, who has served as executive director of MNTRC and MTI since 2014. The programs are housed in the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business at San Jose State.

Philbrick was nominated by former Secretary of Transportation and former Congressman Norman Mineta, Nuria Fernandez, the CEO of VTA and Rod Diridon, MTI’s emeritus executive director. The trio nominated Philbrick for her role in developing MNTRC’s university partner relationships with four Minority Serving Institutions including SJSU, Howard University, Rutgers University and University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“Your status and role in the transportation industry is an inspiration to all women, particularly women of color,” wrote Mioshi Moses, the president and CEO of COMTO, in the award notification letter. “Your professional achievements and pioneering spirit have opened career paths for women across the country.”

Philbrick said the university transportation center is focused on research, education, technology transfer and workforce development.

“In our particular field, we have a crisis of people available to enter the workforce,” she said, noting that a majority of people in the transportation sector are eligible for or nearing eligibility for retirement. “It includes everything from bus drivers to logistics managers to pilots. It includes everything from management all the way to the people on the ground maintaining the system.”

The center offers a master’s of science and transportation management as well as undergraduate courses. It also is involved in a variety of initiatives for K-12 students, including the Summer Transportation Institute that is designed for underrepresented minority and female high school students. Since 2012, the four partner universities have received $10.8 million to support initiatives.

MTI’s research informed the placement of new bike lanes in San Jose and formed the basis of the Caltrans Bus Rapid Transit handbook. The research has statewide, national and international impact. A recent focus of research has been on connectivity.

“We are looking at how to connect people and we are seeing a lot of different trends,” she said, noting that recent research is finding that millenials want to live, work and play where they can walk or take public transit.

Prior to being appointed as executive director of MNTRC and MTI, Philbrick served as MTI’s research director for five years, with two years as deputy executive director and research director for both MTI and MNTRC. She led three MTI research subcenters, directed more than 200 principal investigators for both agencies, oversaw the completion of 122 research projects and the production of more than 175 peer-reviewed research reports and journal publications.

She serves on the U.S. Department of Transportation Transit Advisory Committee for Safety and as treasurer of the Executive Committee of the Council of University Transportation Centers.