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Federal Role in Safety Continues to Unfold; Officials at Three Major Federal Agencies Review Priorities
Safety and security invariably claim the top spot in a list of public transportation’s essential practices, with the aim of “keeping a safe network even safer”—a goal reflected in APTA’s current strategic plan, which was developed after a yearlong initiative to gather and incorporate feedback and insights from members.
And as individual public transit agencies increase safeguards to protect riders, employees and assets, the federal government is also playing a growing role in setting guidelines, recommending best practices and developing pilot programs to strengthen safety throughout the industry.Here’s a look at how three senior leaders view the federal government’s evolving role in public transportation safety.
FTA: Safety Management Systems ‘Foundation’ for Program
Associate Administrator for Transit Safety and Oversight, FTA
As we begin a new year, public transportation safety enters a new phase at FTA. Safety Management System (“SMS”) methods and principles remain the foundation for all FTA policies and regulatory initiatives, and in 2017 we will support the industry in understanding SMS.
We now have several SMS pilot programs underway in various stages at several bus agencies and one large multimodal agency. Based on these pilots, we will develop technical assistance for the entire industry—both rail and rubber-tire—and provide a pool of peer-to-peer expertise. We look forward to sharing a number of SMS resources with the industry in 2017.
This year, FTA expects states to make significant progress toward attaining certification for their State Safety Oversight (SSO) agencies as required by federal law. The SSO final rule, issued in March 2016, requires that an SSO agency have financial and legal independence from the rail transit agencies it oversees, as well as independent investigatory and enforcement authority.
Because of short state legislative calendars, some states must work in earnest towards certification of their SSO programs in 2017 to meet the April 15, 2019, deadline. FTA has grant funds available for states to use to develop and implement their SSO programs.
In addition, this year FTA will complete the task of building the policy and regulatory foundation for the Public Transportation Safety Program, authorized by federal public transportation law in 2012. FTA anticipates publishing final rules for Public Transportation Agency Safety Plans and the Safety Certification Training Program, as well as our first National Public Transportation Safety Plan, which will provide guidance to the industry.
We will build upon this foundation by addressing specific, critical safety issues. For example, FTA will publish a statutorily required report on our comprehensive review of existing public transportation safety standards and protocols. The report includes a comprehensive set of recommendations to support a risk-based analysis of the safety performance of transit modes and identifies transit safety issues that may be mitigated through the issuance of additional safety standards.
In the coming months, we are scheduled to issue a statutorily required Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on protecting public transportation workers from the risk of assault that would establish requirements for mitigating assaults against transit employees.
FTA will continue providing direct safety oversight of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Metrorail system until a new SSO program is created jointly by the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia and certified by the FTA. Indeed, FTA has learned much from our hands-on experience of WMATA oversight, which will inevitably help us achieve our policy and regulatory objectives.
Overall, FTA’s safety role continues to mature with the ongoing startup and completion of rulemakings, directives, State Safety Oversight implementation, SMS guidance and more in 2017 and beyond.
I encourage you to visit FTA’s website, read our monthly newsletter and view our Safety and Oversight page to stay up-to-date with the work we are doing to make a safe industry even safer for its passengers and employees.
NTSB: Steady Emphasis on Technology, Trends
Vice Chair, National Transportation Safety Board
I take public transportation every day. My family and I rely on transit to get to work and school, to shop and to visit friends and family. We, like many American families, depend on public transit and depend on the federal government to help ensure it is safe.
For me, as an NTSB board member, public transportation safety is both a personal and professional priority. I had the pleasure of commenting on the release of APTA’s safety research, which helped educate the public on the importance of transit as a traffic safety tool.
Transit is increasingly considered a safe alternative for travel, especially for high-risk drivers, and this is a positive evolution in perceptions as we all work to make public transit as safe as possible.
What is the evolving role of the federal government and the NTSB?
On one hand, the role of the federal government, including the NTSB, is always evolving because we have a responsibility to ensure we are up-to-date on the latest technology and trends—and that is a responsibility the NTSB takes seriously because we are an agency based on investigative and scientific rigor.
On the other hand, the role of the NTSB to keep Americans safe, in all modes of transportation, does NOT evolve. We have been, and will continue to be, the steadfast, unwavering champion of transportation safety for our nation.
Our purpose is to investigate accidents and make safety recommendations to save lives and prevent injuries. We are a unique, independent agency dedicated to advancing transportation safety, including public transportation safety.
Are we criticized for this single-minded focus on safety? Yes. Does that stop us? No.
Since 1926, we have made more than 14,000 safety recommendations to 2,300 entities; 80 percent of those recommendations have been adopted. But we do not give up when recommendations for effective safety interventions, such as PTC, take years or even decades to complete.
We also shine the spotlight on safety concerns through our “Most Wanted List” of transportation priorities. We focus on transportation safety as only an independent non-regulatory agency can. And our nation is safer for it.
At the NTSB, our safety mission is guided by our values of independence, credibility and transparency. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, “The care of human life and happiness … is the first and only legitimate object of good government.”
In that sense, the role of the NTSB, and indeed the federal government as a whole, should not evolve at all.
TSA: Prevent Attacks, Protect Infrastructure
Mass Transit Branch Manager, Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
TSA employs an intelligence-driven, risk-based approach to secure U.S. transportation systems. Risk-based security strives to deter, detect and disrupt attacks on the nation’s transportation systems and critical transportation infrastructure while facilitating the movement of legitimate travel and commerce.
TSA employs risk-based operations tailored to each environment and transportation mode and leverages intelligence, technology, the experience of our front-line operators and our private sector and international partners to ensure we employ effective and constantly evolving systems and capabilities.
TSA’s public transportation security strategy differs from its aviation security strategy model due to differences in the operating nature of the two elements. PT systems are designed to be open systems in which very little is known about the travelers who use it or personnel who approach its infrastructure.
These systems are much less regulated in comparison to the aviation mode, so for security matters, the federal government primarily serves in a supporting role to state and local authorities and system owners/operators.
In conjunction with federal, state, local, tribal and private sector partners, TSA enhances public transportation security through (1) deterrence, (2) detection and (3) resilience activities. This is accomplished through planning, developing and implementing primarily voluntary strategic security solutions. The primary goals of these activities are to prevent catastrophic terrorist events and protect nationally critical infrastructure.
TSA is responsible for developing public transportation security policy and supporting system owners/operators in identifying, developing and implementing remediation strategies to include unpredictable operational deterrence, preparedness and response exercises, improving critical infrastructure resilience, front line employee security training and public awareness campaigns and materials.
It is important to note, however, that mitigation, response and recovery following a terrorist attack involving transportation infrastructure and services requires a “whole-of-community” approach, including public- and private-sector owners and operators, as well as federal and state and local governments.
Effective preparedness and operational readiness for a terrorist attack begins with the prevention and protection mission areas of the National Preparedness System and in the pre-incident planning, training and exercise components of the response and recovery mission areas.
DHS and DOT share the responsibility for transportation emergency preparedness and response during declared emergencies or disasters.
Editor’s Note: FRA did not provide comments for this article.