Engaging with Tribes

This page is organized in the following subsections:


The information found in this page is for rural transit managers whose transit system’s service area includes American Indian and Alaskan Native populations, and/or travel in or near tribal lands.  For such transit agencies, there are numerous benefits to engaging with tribes. Many tribes operate transportation services that are open to the general public as well as to tribal members.

Tribes may have transportation needs that could be met through collaboration with local transit services, resulting in increased opportunities for the entire community.  Working with tribes involves considerable communications between the transit provider, the tribe, and the State Department of Transportation (DOT).  This page provides information on how to begin such a dialogue.

Benefits of Engaging with Tribes and Tribal Transit Programs

  • Sharing information about respective rural and tribal transit programs and services to help more people access transportation to health care, employment, education, and other basic needs
  • Obtaining tribal members’ input on how local rural transit services could more effectively meet community transportation needs and reduce transit system gaps/overlaps
  • Improving the transportation equity and social justice within the existing transit system
  • Cross-jurisdictional coordination and engagement to enhance regional transit and grow collaborative systems with shared system investments
  • Potential to administer the tribal portion of a rural regional transit system, if the tribe is too small to take on transit administration or desires tribal transit service provision, but prefers not to self-administer the service
  • Improving rural transit system sustainability/longevity by sharing costs and pooling financial resources for service provision (e.g., partnerships can reduce administration and/or training costs to both rural and tribal transit systems)
  • Cross-cultural, historic, and political exchange/dialogue, relationship development, and refined intergovernmental communication
  • Increased access to grant funds (i.e., rural transit grant applications become more competitive when funding requests are for service provision to a broader population)
  • Added transit system connections to cultural, historic, and tourism sites
  • Creating pathways towards generational healing between communities and governmental systems
  • Providing a firm foundation for additional future intergovernmental partnerships to achieve numerous common multidisciplinary goals

Tribal Sovereignty

It is critical to understand the significance of the unique legal status of tribes within the United States and the unique political relationship between tribes and the United States.

Tribal sovereignty in the United States is the concept of the inherent authority of indigenous tribes to govern themselves within the borders of the United States.

Rural transit managers need to understand that tribal sovereignty is grounded in the United States Constitution and that tribes govern as independent sovereign nations on par with the U.S. federal government. 

“Tribal sovereignty ensures that any decisions about the tribes with regard to their property and citizens are made with their participation and consent” (BIA, 2016).  As stated above within Section 5311 and Section 5310 portions of this section, unlike rural communities, tribes have the option of being direct recipients of federal funds in addition to the option receiving federal funds as subrecipients of their state.

Initiating Relationships with Tribes

Meaningful engagement with tribes requires demonstrated respect of each distinct tribe’s sovereignty as recognized by the U.S. federal government. Above all else, this requires sustained tribal inclusion in decision-making processes that will impact tribal interests.

Some suggested practices that can help rural transit managers initiate or maintain engagement with tribal partners:

  • Contact FTA Regional Tribal Liaisons, tribal transportation associations and organizing bodies, or State DOT transit programs to learn about tribal transit in the state
  • Learn who the primary contacts/champions are (e.g., Community Health Representatives (CHRs), Indian Health Service (IHS), Tribal Health Authority, Tribal Transit Program, Tribal Transportation Program Director, or Tribal Transportation Program Planner)
  • Convene meetings to identify common goals, overlaps and gaps in services, connection points, shared funding opportunities
  • Collaborate with tribal partners to draft Memoranda of Agreements (MOAs), Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs), or Intergovernmental Agreements (IGAs) to define/formalize service collaborations/mutually beneficial program supports
  • Garnering Transit Board/Committee/Task Force support and/or Tribal Council Approval may be required to ensure outcomes reflect all parties’ best interests

Each tribe’s governmental entities and governance structure are unique. These practices must be tailored to ensure effective partnership with each distinct tribe.

Types of Coordination

Transportation needs and issues take precedence over jurisdictional lines, and there are many issues that require rural communities and tribes to work together.  Transportation is one example of this as the same road can extend through tribal and local lands.  Regardless of how the relationship is structured, rural transit managers and tribal representatives should collaborate throughout the transportation planning process.  Maintaining regular, open conversation between a rural community and its neighboring tribe is one step that a rural transit program can take to ensure that planning conversations bring local and regional transit needs to the table.

NCHRP Synthesis 366 - Tribal Transportation Programs, a report prepared for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (CTC and Associates 2004), identifies four common methods through which a rural transit manager might coordinate tribal communication:

  • Contacting tribes through Tribal Liaisons within State Departments of Transportation (DOTs), either as designated individuals or offices (Alaska, Arizona, California, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Washington State, and Wyoming were noted).
  • Attending statewide or regional tribal safety summits, held as communication or coordination meetings (Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Washington state, and Wisconsin were noted).
  • Consulting transportation resource guides, either printed or online, which can help rural transit managers understand a tribe’s role in transportation issues (California, Minnesota, and Washington state were noted).
  • Inviting local or regional tribes to join your rural or regional advisory committee, and include discussion of both rural and tribal transportation issues on the agenda (Alaska, Arizona and California were noted).

In addition to the steps detailed above, if a rural transit system is interested in developing, or improving upon, a relationship with a neighboring tribal community, another good starting point might be to see if the State DOT or rural planning organization currently has any of the four communication methods in place.

Tribal Liaison Contacts within State Departments of Transportation

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Office of Planning, Environment, and Realty provides State Tribal Liaison contact information.  Access contact information for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Tribal Liaison.

Opportunities to Address Rural and/or Tribal Transportation Challenges

Low-Density Population

Because both rural and tribal communities may be both physically isolated and at significant distances from urban centers, they often have low-density populations.  The long distances between passengers requiring rides can diminish routing efficiency and result in low passenger productivity.  Coordination of rural and tribal transit service provision could potentially ensure that rural and tribal community members can travel from their remote home communities to urban centers to access employment, medical services, educational opportunities, goods and services.

Large Service Areas

Many rural and tribal transit systems are faced with service provision across vast areas.  Combined with the low population densities in these regions, service reliability and cost are stressors to transit system success that partnership creation may help overcome.  For example, Helping Hands Agency, Inc. is a human service agency in Page, Arizona, which operates the Helping Hands Express, a public transit system with routes into the Navajo Nation communities of Tuba City, Cameron, Kaibito, and Shonto, Arizona.  Helping Hands Express connects Page riders to Navajo Nation businesses, medical providers, behavioral health organizations, educational institutions, and social service agencies while enabling tribal members to have access to the numerous services and opportunities in the larger community of Page.  Helping Hands Agency and Hopi Senom Transit have initiated discussion about developing transit connections between the two services in Tuba City, which would allow Hopi Senom Transit Route 4 riders from Kykotsmovi to transfer at Tuba City to the early morning Helping Hands Express route to Page for work.

Long Travel Distances and Dispersed Destinations

High density populations, concentrated destinations, and the installation of easily accessible pedestrian infrastructure make for effective transit programs.  As noted in the Planning & Evaluation section of the Transit Manager’s Toolkit, a general rule of thumb is that fixed route services can be effective in areas with population densities of over 2,000 people per square mile.  Examples of concentrated destinations are typically found in cities or towns, such as a core downtown, retail centers, clusters of medical facilities, and concentrations of jobs and/or government services.  However, these are not the characteristics generally found in rural or tribal service areas.  As stated above, rural and tribal transit systems have large areas of service, long travel distances, and provide service from hubs that are secluded from other communities in their region.  Yet, they are charged with transporting riders to stops and urban centers that people must access for amenities and services.  Working to isolate, address, and alleviate these transit planning and operating factors can prove difficult at best.

Founded in 1979, Clallam Transit, in Clallam County, Washington, provides both public transportation and paratransit services for riders with disabilities, and connects with the Makah Indian Reservation to provide intercounty commuter bus service to Port Angeles and Forks.  Located on the Olympic Peninsula’s northwest tip at Neah Bay, the reservation is 60 miles from the closest town of Forks, 75 miles from Port Angeles, and 150 miles from Seattle.  Thus, the collaboration and interconnectivity of the two services helps Makah tribal members overcome the transportation challenge of living in such a remote area, and guarantees Clallam Transit consistent ridership.

Service Coordination and Technical Capacity

Consensus building, relationship and budget development, technical and analytical abilities are all skill sets required for successful transit service planning, creation, and expansion.  Nevertheless, both rural and tribal transit systems frequently are defined by limited staffing, administrators who are new to the field of transportation, and smaller operating budgets.  Therefore, in partnering to coordinate transit service provision and enhance technical capacity, rural and tribal transit systems can realize mutual benefits.

Between 2009 and 2012, two rural Arizona regional planning organizations, the Central Arizona Association of Governments (CAAG) and the Southeastern Arizona Governments Organization (SEAGO) administered Pathways Out of Poverty programs.  Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Pathways Out of Poverty programs addressed communities’ economic recovery needs by training and placing disadvantaged individuals in jobs with opportunities for advancement along career pathways in green, high growth, and emerging industries.

Arizona’s southeastern and central regions encompass vast rural areas within the state, which have high poverty rates and large Native American populations.  Program participants under CAAG’s and SEAGO’s jurisdictions were challenged by lost job opportunities and high unemployment.  Due to the region’s size, transportation to CAAG and SEAGO technical training, job placement, and job retention services was a barrier – particularly based on travel time and fuel expense.  Consequently, the partnerships that both CAAG and SEAGO developed with San Carlos Apache Nnee Bich'onii Services for transportation service provision to Pathways Out of Poverty program sites was a foundational step towards program success while providing Nnee Bich'onii Services with consistent ridership during a period of the system’s growth.

San Carlos Apache Nnee Bich'onii Services offers public transportation within the San Carlos Apache Reservation, to Safford, Globe, and other off-reservation areas on a daily basis.  In the San Carlos Apache language, Nnee Bich'onii means “Helping the People,” which the unique program accomplishes by operating as a combined Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and transit program with the goal of ending tribal enrollee dependence on public assistance.  Accordingly, the typical TANF program focus on welfare is shifted to employment, training, education, vocational training, and transportation services instead.  For example, Nnee Bich'onii trained and employed several of its former TANF recipients, including the provision of CDL training to several of those individuals, who then became drivers for the program.  Today, tribal members, people with disabilities, the elderly, tribal TANF recipients, and non-tribal members have additional options to become self-sufficient through Nnee Bich'onii Services.

Territoriality and Unwillingness to Coordinate Services

Rural and tribal transit managers may find themselves so focused on addressing their clients’ needs that they lose a sense of how best to maximize the use of scarce resources.  Buses may not have full occupancy, or may sit idle for periods of the day.  Existing routes may duplicate those run by a neighboring service provider, and program managers may be hesitant to share the precious vehicles and services they have labored diligently to acquire and build for fear of vehicle damage or poor attention to client service provision by a potential new partner.  Further, recognizing that transportation dollars from states and the federal government are limited and require competition to win, rural and tribal transit programs may become territorial.

The North Central Regional Transit District (NCRTD) in Santa Fe, New Mexico overcame some of these concerns in the NCRTD’s early development stages via careful review of rural and tribal organizational issues.  Small Pueblos’ Organizing Committee members expressed anxiety that their needs would be overlooked in the service plan, because of their relative population size compared to other Organizing Committee members. For instance, within the NCRTD’s service area, Pojoaque Pueblo has about 300 enrolled tribal members while the Santa Fe City and County areas each have over 85,000 residents. Thus, the NCRTD crafted a unique “Voting Strength Analysis for NCRTD Members," which was published on their website for stakeholder distribution. The result was a weighted voting formula that divides all members into population divisions of 5,000/10,000/20,000/40,000, and 80,000. While all members receive one vote on the NCRTD Board, each additional division offers a member additional votes. With this set of thresholds in place, the relative voting strength of the larger members is lowered and the pueblos realize an equitable share of the relative voting strength.  In this way, territoriality is diminished, and NCRTD members have greater willingness to take some limited, but shared risks, to realize the direct and indirect benefits of regional service coordination.

Tribal Transit Program Startup

Tribal Transit Programs are initiated in numerous different ways depending on the distinct needs of the tribe in question (e.g., connecting tribal community residents to medical services, education, or employment).  Maintaining access to a diversity of destinations offers the chance for tribal members to enhance their capacities for personal and professional growth.  The result of which translates into the improved economic development, security, and stability of the community and the region as a whole.

Many tribes are contemplating public transit development, but have not yet determined how they wish to pursue startup.  When that is the case, initiating discussions with them about collaboration with existing rural transit programs and starting a new transit program might be very welcome.

Section 5311 and the Tribal Transit Program

Before beginning a dialog with tribes regarding potential transit service coordination, collaboration, or partnership, rural transit managers will want to have as much familiarity as they can with the procedures involved for tribal receipt of FTA Section 5311 funds (U.S. Code Title 49, Section 5311) through the Section 5311 program and/or through the Section 5311(c) Tribal Transit Program (tribes can receive funding from both programs in the same fiscal year).

Tribes as Subrecipients

If the neighboring tribe receives funding through the Section 5311 program, it is often the case that the state is the FTA direct recipient, and the tribe is a subrecipient of the state.  As a subrecipient of the state, the tribe has the same grant program administration requirements and responsibilities as other tribal and non-tribal Section 5311 subrecipients (see the 5311 Grant Management Requirements section of this toolkit for an introduction to subrecipient requirements).  Tribal subrecipients enter into written agreements with the state that indicate the terms and conditions of assistance for their project, and the state submits certifications, assurances, and National Transit Database (NTD) data to the federal government on their behalf. 

Tribes as Direct Recipients

Federally-recognized Indian tribes or Alaska Native villages, groups, or communities identified by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA’s) annual Federal Register listing of Indian Entities Recognized and Eligible To Receive Services From the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs are eligible direct recipients under the Public Transportation on Indian Reservations Program (Tribal Transit Program) in Section 5311(c)(1).  Federally-recognized tribes may also elect to become direct recipients under Section 5311 in lieu of being subrecipients under a state 5311 program.

As a direct Tribal Transit Program recipient, tribal requirements are slightly different from those under the Section 5311 program.  The section below will discuss the Tribal Transit Program, and how its requirements differ from those under the Section 5311 program.

Tribal Transit Program

The Tribal Transit Program was established under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users or SAFETEA–LU in 2006 as part of the Section 5311 program.  The program has continued, and the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act (signed into law December 4, 2015), authorizes the Public Transportation on Indian Reservations Program (Tribal Transit Program or TTP) for Fiscal Years 2016-2020.

The TTP is still a takedown from the Formula Grants for Rural Areas (Section 5311) program, but now consists of a $30 million formula program and a $5 million competitive grant program subject to the availability of appropriations.  A 10 percent local match is required under the competitive program; however, there is no local match required under the formula program.

Only federally-recognized tribes are eligible recipients under the Tribal Transit Program.  Nonetheless, tribes, which are not federally-recognized, remain eligible to apply to the state as subrecipients under their state's apportionment for 5310, 5311, or 5307 funding.

Federally-recognized tribes may use the funding for capital, operating, planning, and administrative expenses for public transit projects that meet the growing needs of rural tribal communities.  Examples of eligible activities include: capital projects; operating costs of equipment, and facilities for use in public transportation; and the acquisition of public transportation services, including service agreements with private providers of public transportation services.

Formula Program

The Formula Grants for Public Transportation on Indian Reservations Program is authorized under Section 5311(j).  These formula funds are distributed to federally-recognized tribes providing public transportation on tribal lands.  In order to receive formula funds, a tribe must report to the National Transit Database on an annual basis.

According to the Section 5311 Circular (FTA C 9040.1G) - Formula Grants for Rural Areas: Program Guidance and Application Instructions, the formula program apportions funds to tribes using the following three tiers:

  • Tier I – Fifty percent (50%) of the funds available under the formula program are apportioned based on vehicle revenue miles (VRM), as reported to the National Transit Database.
  • Tier II – Twenty-five percent (25%) of the funds available under the formula program are apportioned equally among tribes providing at least 200,000 VRM annually, as reported to the NTD.
  • Tier III – Twenty-five percent (25%) of the funds available under the formula program are apportioned to tribes providing public transportation on tribal lands (i.e., American Indian Areas, Alaska Native Areas, and Hawaiian Home Lands [AIANAHH], as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau) where more than 1,000 low-income persons reside as determined by the Bureau of the Census.  No recipient shall receive more than $300,000 under Tier III.

Because allocations under Tiers I and II are calculated based on most recent available NTD data, tribes interested in receiving Tribal Transit Program formula apportionments must first report to NTD.  The reporting deadline to NTD depends on the reporting agency’s fiscal year and is detailed in the most recent NTD Reporting Policy Manual. It may take up to two or three years between first reporting to NTD and inclusion in the apportionment. There is no local match requirement for funds received under the formula program.

Competitive Program

Competitive program funds are available annually, and federally recognized tribes can apply for such funds even if they are not current FTA recipients.  Unlike the formula program, there is a ten percent local match required unless a tribe can demonstrate financial hardship.  Funding opportunities are announced by FTA in a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), which are published in the Federal Register and posted on FTA’s website.

For more information about the competitive Tribal Transit Program, which may vary year to year, visit the Tribal Transit Program page on the FTA website. Final project selections from previous years are available.

As stated earlier, information about the Tribal Transit Program under MAP-21 and the FAST Act can be found in the Section 5311 Circular (FTA C 9040.1G) - Formula Grants for Rural Areas: Program Guidance and Application Instructions, last update 11/24/2014.  See specifically Chapter X - Public Transportation on Indian Reservations, pages X-1 to X-4.

Section 5310 and Tribal Human Services Transportation

While not all tribal communities have transit programs in place at this time, most will have some form of medical transportation and non-emergency medical transportation to which non-tribal transit and non-tribal medical transportation systems can link.  Coordinating development of an effective voucher program with tribal Community Health Representatives, Elderly Services programs, Indian Health Service clinics, and tribal health departments (in many tribal communities known as Tribal Health Authorities) pools local medical support and transportation resources, and could provide transit programs in adjacent rural communities with additional financial support and stability, while enhancing tribal members' access to essential medical transportation.  Additionally, partnering with a tribal paratransit system might also allow a rural transit program to achieve compliance with the requirement to provide paratransit if that rural community lacks those services, but the neighboring tribal community offers them.  Conversely, tribal 5311 programs, which lack paratransit, may welcome the chance to meet their paratransit compliance requirement via partnership with an adjacent rural 5310 program.

Additional information about the Older Americans Act Title VI Program may be found at the Administration on Aging.

More information about 5310 grant management requirements is available in the Grant Management section of the Transit Manager’s Toolkit.

Funding and Writing Competitive Transit Program and Tribal Transit Program Grants

Competitive grant writing depends on an understanding that the process is not just about the money; rather the funding is the means through which transit programs sustain, improve, or expand their service provision, develop or enhance agency partnerships, and increase client access to opportunities.  National RTAP’s 2017/2018 Transit Provider Survey found that “successful grant writing” and “funding/scheduling staff training” were “Hot Button” issues.  When asked about their agency’s top two priorities, 87 of 360 respondents (or 23%) indicated “financial sustainability/securing adequate or expanded funding.”

Twenty-four percent of the rural and tribal transit respondents to the 2015/2016 Transit Manager Survey suggested their top priority was “…ways to develop local funding, match, partnerships for contract operations, and grant opportunities with state and federal partners.”  As a result, it is clear that rural and tribal transit managers are thinking beyond just winning grant dollars, but also about how the implementation of those grant projects can help them further their transit programs’ missions, visions, and short and long term goals.

When looking at potential transportation coordination, rural transit managers and tribes together will want to maintain awareness of grant programs in which the funding goes directly to states in order to take full advantage of available federal funds to grow area transit programs.  Where tribes have the financial capacity/desire to make the required funding match, it may be beneficial for the tribe to be a subrecipient of the state in order to access those funding sources. 

Tribal grant applications will be more competitive with the support of rural transit programs in their respective areas, and rural grant application reviews by the state also will benefit from tribal support.  When rural transit programs and tribes agree to collaborate and coordinate service provision, open and consistent communication with State DOTs is vital to help ensure tribal notification when state grant opportunities arise. Applicants should include narrative detail as to how their coordinated service will increase people’s access to jobs, education, medical support services, etc.

As part of the tribal collaboration process on potential Tribal Transit Program grant application submissions, rural transit managers will want to double check their neighboring tribe’s eligibility via the Federal Register’s annual January publication of the list of Indian Entities Recognized and Eligible To Receive Services From the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs.  In addition, developing a clear understanding of the principles of tribal sovereignty will create a secure foundation upon which to form strong and lasting intergovernmental relationships defined by the pooling of grant funding resources and shared service coordination goals.  (Please see the Frequently Asked Questions section for more about tribal sovereignty.)

Frequently Asked Questions

Answer: The most accurate source of information about a particular tribe is the tribe itself.  Nonetheless, many tribes and Alaska Native villages lack web sites, or due to limited Information Technology staffing, may only have websites that are little more than landing pages.  The following suggestions provide potential sources of contact information as well as helpful background information.

  • Rural transit managers may wish to consult the National Congress of American Indians’ (NCAI) Tribal Directory and/or the Bureau of Indian Affairs Tribal Leaders Directory .
  • At the About Tribes tab of the NCAI’s website, rural transit managers can download the Tribal Nations and the United States: An Introduction guide developed by the National Congress of American Indians to offer a historic overview of the underlying principles of tribal governance, to ensure that policy decision makers at the local, state, and federal level understand their relationship to tribal governments as part of the American family of governments, and to provide critical information as to how to engage effectively with contemporary tribal nations.
  • Quoting The Importance of Cultural Competency topic 2 on the University of Arizona’s Research, Discovery and Innovation Native Peoples Technical Assistance Office’s “Getting Started: Research and Engagement” web page, “Tribal nations are extremely diverse in terms of cultures, languages, lands, governance structures, economies, and decision-making authorities.  Each Native nation has its own laws, codes, regulations, procedures and/or departmental guidelines governing activity occurring on tribal land.  Most indigenous groups share common understandings that they as a people have access to land, have a form of self-government, and want to preserve important parts of their culture and worldviews.  Familiarize yourself with the culture of the Native nation with whom you intend to work.  Native nations are the keepers of their knowledge, cultural practices, and traditions…”
  • Regional intertribal organizations generally maintain accurate records of their tribal members.
  • Tribal Transit Program grantee lists (please scroll down the page to “Project Selections” to view these lists beginning with fiscal year 2014) can inform a rural transit manager as to whether their neighboring tribe has received funding and whether that funding was for planning, capital program development, or operations.

Answer: See the response to the question above, “I want to learn more about my neighboring tribe before I reach out to them, where can I find accurate information?”  Further, rural transit program managers may wish to reach out to their State Department of Transportation’s Tribal Liaison(s) or to the FTA’s Tribal Transit Program’s Regional Tribal Liaison(s) to obtain tribal contact information, if they are not finding it readily online.

Answer: Quoting the Federal Highway Administration Tribal Transportation Program Delivery Guide-2017, “Prior to SAFETEA-LU, Indian Tribal governments worked directly with the BIA or the DOI, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs in implementing the TTP program.

Since SAFETEA-LU, Indian Tribal governments have a choice in administration of the TTP program. As a result, under 23 U.S.C. 202(a)(2), the Secretary of Transportation is authorized to enter into a Tribal Transportation Program Agreement (TTPA) with an Indian Tribal government to carry out a transportation program and projects. This allows Tribes the option of working directly with the FHWA in the administration of their Tribal Transportation Program.” In addition, the BIA can also enter into a TTPA with a Tribal government to carry out their transportation program.”Thus, tribes have four Tribal Transportation Program Delivery Options available to them. (See the figure below from page 8 of the Federal Highway Administration Tribal Transportation Program Delivery Guide-2019 and note that under Option 3: Tribal Transportation Program Agreement, a Tribe can enter into a Tribal Transportation Program Agreement [TTPA] with either BIA or FHWA.)


Due to the efficiency and empowerment that tribes experience through Tribal Transportation Program Agreements with the FHWA, there are new tribes entering into FHWA TTPAs almost daily.  Thus, rural transit managers will want to inquire of either the tribe itself, the Federal Highway Administration Division Office within their state , or their regional Lands Highway Division office to learn if their neighboring tribe’s transportation program administration is through FHWA or BIA.

Answer: Tribal Transit Manager, Tribal Transportation Program Director, Tribal Transportation Program Planner, Tribal Transportation Program Coordinator, Tribal Community Planner, Tribal Planner, Transportation Program Manager, etc.


Answer: A phone inquiry with the tribe’s administrative offices can usually get rural transit managers to the correct individual; however, sometimes a tribal receptionist may need a prompt for the tribe’s transportation program, bus, or services for elders or people with disabilities.  For tribes, which have not yet started a public transit service, an inquiry for the Community Health Representative (CHR) often will connect you to the right individual and department with knowledge about the tribe’s Section 5310 or Title VI transportation.

Answer: Outreach to the Tribal Transportation Program, Public Works, Planning, Community Health Representative, or Elderly Services departments, and/or Indian Health Service or tribal clinic generally can help rural transit managers make contact with the correct individuals.  If such a call or email fails to result in a connection to the right individual, a phone or email inquiry with the tribal administration may provide the contact information needed.  Finally, as was suggested above in the “Types of Coordination” section, contacting the State DOT Tribal Liaison(s), attending statewide or regional tribal safety summits, consulting local, state, or regional transportation resource guides or transit associations, inviting local or regional tribes to join your rural or regional advisory committee will allow rural transit managers to provide tribes with information about their transit services and obtain their input about future service changes.

Answer: Here are two resources with guidance on this topic:

Answer: See the following case studies for exemplary Tribal Transit Programs:

  • FHWA’s compilation of Case Studies for both “Collaboration, Consultation, and Partnership in Transportation Planning” and “Case Studies of State, MPO, and Tribal Coordination in Transportation Planning (Sitka Tribe of Alaska, South Dakota DOT, Arizona, North Central New Mexico, and Washington State were noted).”
  • Chapter 10 - Tribal Transit Program Case Studies within TRB's Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Report 154: Developing, Enhancing, and Sustaining Tribal Transit Services: A Guidebook.

Answer: “Tribal sovereignty ensures that any decisions about the tribes with regard to their property and citizens are made with their participation and consent” (Bureau of Indian Affairs, 2016).  Rural transit managers need to understand that tribal sovereignty is grounded in the United States Constitution and that tribes govern as independent sovereign nations on par with the U.S. federal government.  As stated above within Section 5311 and Section 5310 portions of this section, unlike rural communities, tribes have the option of being direct recipients of federal funds or of receiving federal funds as subrecipients of their state.

Answer: The Department of the Interior published a document that details the statutory requirements of Indian Preference, which is derived from Section 7(b) of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (Public Law 93-638, 88 Stat. 2205, 25 U.S.C 450e[b]).  These requirements state that any contract or subcontract entered into in accordance with any act authorizing contracting with tribes or contracting for the benefit of tribes, is required to include the following (this list is taken directly from the Department of Interior Acquisition Regulation [DIAR] document):

  • that preferences and opportunities for training and employment in connection with the administration of such contracts or grants shall be given to Indians; and
  • that preference in the award of subcontracts and subgrants in connection with the administration of such contracts or grants shall be given to Indian organizations and to Indian-owned economic enterprises as defined in section 3 of the Indian Financing Act of 1974 (88 Stat. 77).

Read the full Department of the Interior Acquisition Regulation (DIAR) document.



Thank you to Michia Casebier, M.G. Tech-Writing, LLC for preparing this document, and to National RTAP Review Board members Glen Baum, Standing Rock Public Transit, Donovan Gomez, Transit Administrator, Hopi Senom Transit, and FTA staff, for their review of the document.  Photo credit: Curtis Raines, Klamath Tribes Chiloquin, OR. Image credit: Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

Updated November 27, 2019