Fifteen special buses and vans are being purchased by the D.C. Department of Transportation to be used by nonprofits groups to provide transportation for senior citizens and handicapped people.

The vehicles are being purchased by the transportation department with a $152,652 grant from the federal Urban Mass Transportation Administration under a program which provides grants to states for transportation to the elderly and handicapped, according to an announcement by Mayor Walter E. Washington.

The first of the 15 vehicles has already been received. It is a small buses which has seating for 10 people, space for two wheelchairs and a hydraulic lift for the wheelchairs. It was recently presented to the Information Center for the Handicapped.

The District will retain the title to the vehicles for five years and is to monitor their use. Each vehicle is to be used by a private, nonprofit agency. The groups will provide 20 per cent matching funds and are to insure and maintain the vehicles.

"These vehicles will provide a much-needed resource for the city to enable those who have the greatest difficulties in using public transportation to reach the services they need," Mayor Washington said in announcing that all of the vehicles have been ordered.

Under the federal program, the city purchased the vehicles through the competitive bidding process, Washington said. Some are standard vans and buses, and others are custom vehicles designed to meet the needs of a special group of riders.

Two of the vehicles are to be used by the D.C. Association for Retarded Citizens, and one by the Educational Organization for United Latin Americans. Others will be used by the D.C. Society for Crippled Children, Jewish Council for the Aging of Greater Washington, Downtown Cluster of Churches Daycare Geriatric Cent center D.C. Cerebral Palsy Association, the Lt. Joseph T. Kennedy Institute and Catholic Charities.

Three vehicles are being granted directly to agencies and the remainder will be provided under a group arrangement with the Washington Transportation Alliance, a nonprofit agency formed to improve transportation for senior citizens and the handicapped.

The transportation department is currently processing applications for another 16 vehicles, for an additional total of approximately $158,000. For further information, call James Clark, Department of Transportation, at 629-3492 or Cindy Dudek, Washington Transportation Alliance, at 554-9068.