The application period for TransitCenter’s 2016 open call for proposals has closed.

2016 Open Call Schedule & Requirements | 2015 Open Call Grantees | Dispatch Grants

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Public transportation is needed more than ever today. People clamor for better and more ways of moving around the city but in many cases, even willing leaders are blocked by longstanding practices and outdated policies. Localities are taking the lead in finding and implementing solutions but often feel that they need to go after it alone. Working with other organizations, connecting to others, and diversifying the participation can be challenging and take more planning and coordination – though doing so often leads to much better and self-sustaining initiatives.

For 2016-2017, TransitCenter, a national foundation committed to improving urban mobility, seeks to provide funding to proposals that strengthen and align leadership across all sectors and connect unlikely partners, all the better to help localities improve public transportation.

Our grantmaking goals are reflected through two of our recent reports that showed how a new kind of dynamic is required to facilitate change. Our Getting to the Route of It report examines the limitations of current structures of regional governance. A People’s History of Recent Urban Transportation Innovation shows how a robust civic sector, aligned with bold city leadership and an agency staff able to navigate change led to successes that were unimaginable before. Based on our research, we believe that any locality and group of actors within and outside of the public sector can create the circumstances by which change is possible.

Building on this understanding, we’re especially interested in ideas that offer an opportunity to form partnerships that reach across the aisle, across sectors, across departments; in other words, pairings that may have long been thought to be impossible, but whose engagement would be essential to doing things differently. Perhaps a transit agency would like to work with a civic organization for the first time on a demonstration project, for example. Or a public health office will start a public engagement campaign for transit, to better improve access to physical activity. We have included a list of potential project types below to illustrate some past successes, in the hopes of sparking new ideas for change.

Grant proposals requesting between $50,000 – 150,000 will be considered. Any U.S. organization is eligible to apply, though transit agencies and civic organizations new to transit advocacy (such as, though not limited to, public health, special interest groups such as senior citizen, youth, or parents groups, and civic design organizations) are especially encouraged to apply.

We know that you’re interested in working together to make a difference – we can’t wait to see what you come up with.

What kind of projects and who can apply

We’re especially interested in strategies that were discussed in our report A People’s History of Recent Transportation Innovation, which illustrated how people, from any sector, can build leadership and support for transportation reform. In this round of proposals, we encourage interested parties to focus on three issue areas that we describe below in greater detail. Proposed projects may consist of demonstration projects, training, applied research, public advocacy and education, conferences/symposium/events or other activities.

How Much-02Whatever the form of the particular project, the proposed activity must be situated in the context of a larger strategy and aligned with our mission.

For the 2016-2017 grant cycle, projects are limited to the United States of America. Grant recipients will be entities incorporated or otherwise registered and based in the United States of America.

Political campaigns, electioneering, and legislative lobbying are not qualified uses. We will not support general operating support of other organizations, general capacity building, or back-filling of public sector budgets for activities that are normally the responsibility of government.

Any social mission-oriented organization is eligible for funding, including but not limited to advocacy groups, consulting companies, units of government, technical assistance providers, community-based organizations, educational institutions, and other civic organizations.

What interests us

A PDF of the LOI application can be found here

A PDF of the LOI application can be found here

For the 2016-17 period, TransitCenter strongly encourages applicants to focus on strategies that have led to transformation via engagement between civic and public sectors and demonstration projects as they relate to at least one of three areas of interest, described below.

Projects outside these program areas will not be considered.

Leadership and Governance

The governance of transit is largely unchanged from the original responsibilities, relationships and arrangements established fifty years ago. The shift from private ownership to public governance became the paradigm for public transit in the decades after World War II. Transit agencies became the oversight body for public transit – both planning and operating the system – and city departments maintained the streets. Civic actors participated in the governance of transit systems by forming organizations that helped to monitor, partner and push the agencies and cities to innovate. However, with the advent of the automobile, the majority of transportation policy, planning, and financing became auto-oriented. The civic sector largely felt powerless to override this institutional bias.

To this day, federal and state funding allocations as well as planning practices remain biased toward the automobile and expansion of highways, despite all evidence that our present and future have different needs. Cities and regions need new institutions/organizations, policies, and practices that will reform past practice and address the growing need for innovative urban transportation. We are seeking proposals that would enable:

  • Local leaders to move more transit-friendly policies and investments to implementation faster.
  • Practitioners at transit and other agencies to use updated tools, standards, and practices to better integrate transit planning with planning for land use, housing, economic development, and environmental protection.
  • Public sector agencies to redesign and or restructure themselves or their services in order to increase the range of mobility options available to the public.
  • Transportation agencies to reform their standards and practices in order to rectify the bias toward automobiles and highway expansion which is carried over from the past, and develop standards and practices more suitable for a multi-modal future.
  • Create opportunities for advocates to partner with transit agencies or city departments responsible for transportation and street design
  • Enhance advocates’ role and voice in the their region
Riders and Technology

Transit data and the technologies that deliver it to every rider’s fingertips are the most dynamic forces shaping behavior of transportation consumers today. New transportation services are emerging that could help solve chronic gaps in providing transit service. Technology is also a management tool that can be applied to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the planning and delivery of transit services. But adoption of new technology by the transit industry can be very slow and require overcoming significant institutional and cultural barriers. We invite proposals that would:

  • Connect civic, private, and public sector organizations utilizing real-time transit information and technologies with transit agencies, in order to expand and integrate consumer travel options and enable more people to take more transit trips.
  • Increase transit agencies’ utilization of open-data or open-source technological solutions to improve performance, accountability and transparency.
  • Nurture technology-based connections between conventional fixed-route transit agencies and other providers of urban mobility.
  • Improve the professional state of practice and interaction among technologists involved in the transportation field, whether employed by government, the civic sector, or private enterprise.
  • Create opportunities for transit riders to build relationships with transit agencies

Specifically within the rider/technology area, we are not interested in development of one-off applications that serve a limited population, such as smart phone apps or trip-planners. Strong preference will be given to projects that apply technology to solve a systemic problem with broad public benefits, versus individual.

Demand and Opinion

Land use policy, parking regulations, and transportation demand management (TDM) significantly affect demand for transit, biking, and walking. Yet there are often few connections between those who manage the “supply side” of transportation (transit, streets, etc.) and those who manage the “demand side” of TDM, parking, and land use. Many civic leaders and advocates work to reform transit and street design but lack knowledge of demand-related policy. Meanwhile, many TDM and parking reform projects either lack effective evaluation processes or report their benefits in narrow, technical terms that do not broadly resonate.

Opinion research is also critical to informing and emboldening advocates for transit, enlightening elected officials and other policy-makers about their constituents’ desire for transit. Travel behavior and modal preferences are changing quickly, and with more knowledge of those changes the transit industry should be able to get ahead of the market. More sophisticated attitudinal research can help the transit field understand riders and potential riders, in order to both shape and respond to demand.

We invite projects that expand overall understanding of transit demand and enable:

  • Government and civic adoption of practices that connect transit with travel demand management and other demand-related policies, or which convincingly quantify and demonstrate the value of TDM and parking reform. .
  • Local organizations and decision-makers across the country to be better equipped with public opinion data that supports the argument for improved transit.
  • Transit agencies and civic organizations to plan multi-modal services and networks that more accurately reflect the demand patterns of the future, whether in terms of demographics, geography or other contexts.
  • Integrates a multi-modal mindset into organizations that have previously been uni-modal in outlook.

Sample projects as applied to program areas include but are not limited to:

  • Independent technical analysis that could challenge conventional transportation planning models or beliefs (e.g., what STOP and other civic organizations did to challenge the “necessity” for the Mount Hood Freeway in Portland in the 1970s)
  • A design or technical guide that builds a common language between agencies or departments that need to work together and codifies new practices (e.g., the NYC DOT Urban Street Design Guide, the NACTO Urban Bikeways Design Guide or Transit Street Design Guide)
  • Develop a regional or city-wide transportation vision that engages the public in the issue and frames priorities as quality-of-life imperatives (e.g., 1972 Downtown Portland Plan, 2007 PlaNYC, 2010 Chicago Fast Forward)
  • Peer-to-peer experience learning and study trips, such as sending agency staffers to learn from other cities (i.e. agency staff visiting Bogota to learn about ciclovias, Copenhagen to learn about bicycle infrastructure, Zurich about parking reform, Seattle about TDM)
  • Bring outside expertise to a public agency that is ready to take action on demonstration projects (i.e. as NYC DOT did with Gehl Architects)
  • Create a demonstration project using technology in some way, in conjunction with the local transit agency or department of transportation
  • Partner with civic technologists to find solutions to systemic problems and expand the people who participate in developing a solution (as MTA has done through its BigApps competition)
  • Crowdsource ideas that will be included in planning for a new infrastructure system (as NYC and Chicago did with bike-share)

What your project should aim for

How We Will-03Applied approaches, not pie-in-the-sky

All projects will be expected to provide fresh insights and approaches to vexing, systemic questions. Whatever the idea or project may be, there should be a pragmatic connection to clear, real-world improvements, as defined by the applicant. Projects should clearly describe the intended audience or participants. Events should convey an outcome or purpose that will help improve urban transportation by bringing together particular people who would not otherwise cross paths. Studies should be connected to constituent demand and application.


Good urban mobility is by definition multi-modal and considers a variety of vehicular forms in the public transportation sector. We strongly encourage proposals that take a multi-modal approach, not those that promote any particular vehicle type regardless of context. We also encourage projects directed at positive outcomes for the general public, not those that enhance public relations for any particular provider or agency.

Successful projects, whatever their form, will also tend to serve one or more of these functions:

  • Build technical capacity that will change practice or reform existing policy within the field of urban mobility. Applicants should describe how a proposed project would lead to real-world application and address a constituency or problem in need of new solutions.
  • Support interdisciplinary approaches. Often, transit practitioners are institutionally isolated from other sectors affected by transportation. Projects that connect transportation issues to issues of urban design, economic development, housing, environmental concerns, and social impacts will be given preference. Proposals that connect practitioners beyond their respective parochial sectors are strongly encouraged.
  • Nurture pro-transit voices.  A robust civic sector – local foundations, advocacy groups, membership associations – have long been a force in policy arenas such as housing, parks, health, social services, and arts and culture. These groups from outside of government often provide the push for improvement and innovation. By contrast, public interest groups who represent the interests of current and future transit riders and progressive transportation policy are relatively rare. We seek to bolster civic organizations’ potential to lead transportation reform at the local, regional and state levels (with the exception of direct legislative lobbying and electioneering).

About TransitCenter

TransitCenter is a national foundation dedicated to improving urban mobility. With our independent endowment, we commission activities designed to unlock innovations in how people move around in cities and that contribute to urban vitality.

In addition to work which we supervise, we will use our funds to support organizations who share our belief that significant reform of how American metropolitan areas plan and operate their transportation systems is essential to improving urban residents’ quality of life, including their economic prospects. Our call for proposals is directed at strengthening neighborhoods, communities, municipalities and regions that want to improve their public transportation systems for the people in those places.

Operating as a philanthropic foundation, TransitCenter is non-partisan and independent of any corporate affiliation, and is managed under the sole control of a public-spirited Board of Trustees. 

Submissions and requests for information

Any questions about the open call should be directed to

Dispatch Grants

TransitCenter is now accepting proposals for Dispatch Grants from locally-based pro-transit civic organizations by invitation only. Email with questions.