August 31, 2009
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Maintaining Public Transit Safety Requires a Comprehensive Approach
BY DONNA AGGAZIO YOUNG, Special to Passenger Transport
Aristotle once said: “The whole is more than the sum of its parts.” The same can be said for the commitment required to keep public transportation systems safe for their passengers and employees.
What follows is an overview of the array of “parts” involved in a system-wide approach that most effectively ensures the continued safety and reliability of public transportation.
Investing in a Safety Culture
Since January 2008, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has undertaken a major initiative to change its corporate culture and spread ownership of safety throughout the organization. Called Work Safe/Home Safe, the $10 million (Cdn.) program seeks to improve productivity and morale by making employee safety the center of attention by TTC’s management. This three-year program plans to succeed by:
* Improving leadership skills by providing tools to self-assess and allow for external feedback;
* Promoting better engagement with employees through team building and observing each other, as part of the work routine, to work safely; and
* Reviewing and revamping safety management processes to take risks out of the system.
According to TTC Chief Safety Officer John O’Grady, Work Safe/Home Safe has already shown results in its first 18 months, with employee injuries reduced by 26 percent. TTC targets a 60 percent reduction if the program becomes permanent.
Doing it Right
The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District in Urbana, IL, takes a system-wide approach to safety. In operation since 1971, this bus system had not experienced a fatality until 2004, when two occurred in the same year. In response—according to Managing Director William Volk, who also chairs the APTA Legislative Committee—agency officials scrutinized procedures and operator training.
One ingredient to system safety for Champaign-Urbana has been the practice of using in-service operators to assist as trainers. Another, Volk said, is placing a 30-year employee in charge of the training function. In addition, the agency’s provision of annual refresher training for its 230 full- and part-time operators helps maintain a level of consistency and intensity for its operator workforce.
“Making safety a high priority takes a lot of work,” he said, “and one chief way we keep safe is to teach operators uniformly to drive defensively.”
Bus and Rail Simulators
Bus and rail simulators, which have been available as training tools for less than 20 years, offer a unique advantage: they can put operators in real world situations so they can learn how to avoid potentially risky behavior, and they offer a safe opportunity to make life-threatening mistakes.
“Operators and trainers can ‘jump back into time’ and talk about what can be done differently,” said David Bouwkamp, executive director of business development for FAAC, a major provider of vehicle simulators to the public safety and defense industries as well as public transportation.
FAAC reported that using simulators for rail transit training can reduce occurrences of accidents by 30 to 45 percent. Bouwkamp cautioned, however, that simulators are only one part of a training program and that, despite their showing results, they are not a panacea. Simulators can also be used to recreate scenarios of accidents to teach operators to avoid them in the future.
The company plans to launch a new line of bus simulators soon that will include denser streets, more pedestrians, and bicyclists.
Driver training is only one of the many types of training necessary for public transit systems to address critical skill challenges resulting from changing technologies, shifting workforce demographics, and growing ridership.
APTA—with support from the Transportation Learning Center (TLC), transit systems, and unions including the Amalgamated Transit Union, Transport Workers Union, and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers—has developed a national system approach to support transit training partnerships. Designed to close gaps in skill shortages, this approach promotes cost-effective and high-quality regional training programs that expand the resources of individual agencies.
Embraced by employees and supervisors alike, the longest-running and largest training partnership program—the Keystone Transit Career Ladder Partnership in Pennsylvania—has increased maintenance employee skills, leading to measurable improvements in employee knowledge. In particular, smaller transit systems in the state have benefited from this labor-management training partnership by experiencing fewer mechanical failures, longer-lasting repairs, and a decrease in customer complaints.
“The process of working together between management and labor is a very detailed one and everyone inside the organization is responsible to make it succeed,” said TLC Executive Director Brian Turner.
A similar training program for MTA New York City Transit’s front-line personnel has resulted in improved labor-management relationships, increased worker morale and job satisfaction, and enhanced trust between supervisors and workers as a result of the partnership.
Turner said partnerships such as the New York one “create a culture of safety and do away with a culture of blame. Joint safety programs make incidents as unlikely as possible and build internal recognition that everyone has a safety responsibility.”
TLC has also been at the forefront in developing industry training guidelines in bus maintenance, transit rail signals, traction power, rail vehicles, and elevator/escalator occupations. Using an inventory of skills needed and learning objectives as defined by national experts in each area of expertise, these guidelines have been developed to facilitate shared coursework between transit systems and regional training partnerships that would otherwise be costly, even out of reach, for smaller agencies.
Implementing Innovative Technologies
Developing and applying innovative bus and rail equipment and services represents an integral part of the whole in the public transit industry’s approach to safety. Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) continue to grow in safety uses among transit bus systems; safety-related applications for bus transit include collision avoidance systems, on-board cameras, computer-aided dispatching, and signal prioritization.
U.S. DOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) is conducting a major safety initiative to enhance drivers’ skills and knowledge, and to transform regional highway travel with clear implications for public transportation. The IntelliDriveSM initiative, in the prototype phase, combines leading edge technologies such as advanced wireless communications, on-board computer processing, advanced vehicle sensors, real-time information, and Global Positioning Satellite system navigation to provide the capability for vehicles—including transit buses—to avoid hazards on the road, and to issue warnings to drivers/operators to monitor speed and overall operation performance.
“The number one area we want to advance in transportation is roadway safety,” said RITA Administrator Peter Appel. “IntelliDriveSM offers an unprecedented level of roadway awareness to drivers, and bus drivers are certainly a very, very important part of that mix.”
Appel cited some specific areas where the program can benefit public transit: “It will give bus drivers a 360-degree view of their vehicle, warning them that a pedestrian is out of view but not out of danger. It will also warn drivers of immediate hazards on the road, such as traffic suddenly braking ahead.” Other potential safety applications for transit include Driver Condition Monitoring (an on-board system that monitors driver fatigue, sounding an alarm if the driver shows signs of drifting off to sleep) and Curve Speed Warning (telling the driver to slow down if the vehicle’s speed is higher than recommended for a curve).
This program is a product of the ITS Joint Programs Office of RITA. The office recently formed a transit stakeholder group to develop a road map for how the transit community could receive the most utility from the program, and to refine what areas of research to explore more fully.
Assessing track and vehicle conditions requires a comprehensive measurement of the infrastructure, including the third rail, rail wear and track geometry, and monitoring of the track signal circuitry system. ENSCO Inc., a provider of railway safety technology and a long-time partner in research and development with the Federal Railroad Administration, has several track safety projects underway, such as developing a real-time predictor of temperature; automated machine vision to inspect track components; and unilateral track geometry measurement.
“Frequent visits to rail transit systems to learn more about their problems and needs, coupled with active research and development, helps technology providers such as ENSCO stay ahead to find solutions and solve safety needs,” said Jeff Stevens, director of commercial business operations for the company’s Rail Division.
Creating Safety Standards
Since 1996, APTA has convened a wide range of experts in transit system operation, car manufacturers, vehicle operations management, and safety professionals to create and implement 170 consensus-based standards in rail transit alone. Recognized as a Standards Development Organization by U.S. DOT and the Department of Homeland Security, APTA adheres to policies specified by the American National Standards Institute and partners with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the American Rail Engineering and Maintenance of Way Association. Standards currently in development include driver distraction and crashworthiness.
Ultimately, once standards are implemented industry-wide, the cost of training will decrease, the quality will rise, and the rate of acceptance for standards will go up, said TLC’s Turner.
Currently, TLC has a central role in expanding partnership-based training. Five such programs exist now and seven new ones are planned.
As stated in the beginning of this story, the safe operation of public transportation encompasses the sum of many parts: ongoing investment in technology by private companies and the federal government, consensus-based training guidelines and labor/management training partnerships, and comprehensive industry safety standards. Not a single part of the whole stands alone in keeping public transportation safe.
Transit Safety Resources
* William Volk, Managing Director, Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, Urbana, IL
* John O'Grady, Chief Safety Officer, Toronto Transit Commission
* More information on national training standards for public transportation’s maintenance occupations and career ladder partnerships
* Brian Turner, Director, Transportation Learning Center
* David Bouwkamp, Executive Director for Business Development, FAAC Inc.
* Jeff Stevens, Director of Commercial Business Operations, Rail Division, ENSCO Inc.
* Bill Petit, independent consultant
* Also, information on APTA’s safety programs, committees, working groups and training initiatives