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.
It has grown increasingly clear that, at least on some transit systems, passengers are not adequately protected. While transit is one of our nation’s safest forms of transportation, we are starting to see danger signs thanks to the combination of aging transit systems and local cost constraints.
That is why I want to get this conversation started; that is why the Obama Administration would like to see legislation that protects transit passengers in America.
Now, would we prefer that States regulate their own systems? You bet. But, some states simply lack the resources to do that. And, in a pinch, some state will cut safety items from their budgets. For transit passengers those cuts are too dear.
As Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who sits on the House Transportation Committee said, “There’s always pressure to cut wherever you can. It’s good to have an outside agency or monitor to make sure you don’t cut safety.”
Indeed, the state safety agencies average less than one full-time staff person per agency. It's hard to imagine how on earth we can be protecting passengers at that level.
This conversation is particularly important for us 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.
And the Federal Transit Administration is an obvious home for these new safety efforts.
As safety expert Robert Francis, a former vice chairman of the NTSB, put it:
“They’re helping to finance all of these systems; they should take some type of role to make sure that passengers are being carried safely. It’s inexcusable, I think, not to have some kind of reasonable safety oversight of big transportation systems like this.”
So, consider the conversation started. We'll be presenting our take on this idea to Congress next month. And the media is beginning to weigh in on our proposal. But I'm interested in hearing more voices on this, so, please, give it some careful consideration, and let us know what you think.