APTA | Passenger Transport
November 23, 2009

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DOT Proposes Expanded Transit Safety Role for FTA

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has called for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to add safety oversight authority for light and heavy rail systems as well as bus systems, saying: “Safety is our number one priority when it comes to planes, trains, and automobiles. And it only makes sense that we should be looking out for passengers who ride subways and light rail and municipal buses, too.”

Over the last several months, APTA has met with FTA regarding federal oversight, and is urging that the industry continues to be included in the process so a common sense approach is taken. 

APTA President William Millar said: “Public transportation systems are very safe. We will work with the federal government and Congress to make sure that our safe systems are even safer.”

Currently, 27 state safety oversight agencies controlled by the states provide safety oversight to light rail and heavy rail transit agencies. Commuter rail safety is covered by the Federal Railroad Administration. The secretary noted, however, that some states face fiscal constraints that may affect their ability to regulate their own transit agencies.

“This conversation is particularly important for us,” he said, “because we’ve been working hard to expand transit use as a way to reduce traffic congestion and the country’s dependence on foreign oil. If the role of transit is going to grow, transit safety efforts must also grow.” He added that DOT will take the proposal to Congress next month.

While specific details have not been announced, initial press reports indicate that under the administration’s proposal, states that keep their oversight bodies would need to pass safety certification programs; demonstrate that they had adequately trained employees; and possess the financial independence and authority to compel compliance from the systems they oversee.

They would receive federal funding to cover salaries, training, and other expenses. Further, FTA would assume direct oversight for states that decided to opt out of monitoring. FTA would also take over for state organizations that it determined to be inadequate.

Although initial efforts will focus on rail transit systems, the plan would also allow FTA to issue safety regulations for bus transit systems. Lastly, transit systems would be responsible for costs incurred with complying with the new requirements.

Millar noted that APTA is a Standards Development Organization recognized by the federal government, and has created more than 100 voluntary rail standards. APTA also has a history of working on standard development efforts with other organizations.

“We hope that the federal government would look at the standards already in place,” Millar said, adding that, “FTA paid for their development. We would expect that if there are major changes and if there are significant new costs, that additional revenue from the federal government would pay for these costs,” he said.

APTA will join LaHood and FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff at a Dec. 8 hearing of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, on the federal role in public transit safety. Secretary LaHood is expected to release a more detailed proposal at that hearing. Several bills regarding oversight have also been introduced by members of the House and Senate. They include: S. 1506 by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD); H.R. 3338 by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD); and H.R. 3975 by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).

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