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A Path Forward: An FTA Safety Rulemaking Update

Editor's Note: This version of the story does not include graphics that appear in the print edition. To see these graphics, click here.

FTA Associate Administrator,
Office of Transit Safety and Oversight

Every passenger who takes public transportation should feel safe when riding any transit system, whether bus or rail.

Ensuring that our nation’s public transportation systems are safe is the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) top priority and one reason why FTA has issued a proposed plan for the future of public transportation safety. FTA has also initiated several rulemakings intended to ensure that public transportation remains one of the safest modes of travel available.

In the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act, Congress directed the secretary of transportation, among other things, to both develop and implement a national plan to improve transit safety and issue a rule which would require FTA’s recipients to develop and implement agency safety plans. In response to the congressional mandates, on Feb. 5 FTA issued a proposed rule for the Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan (Agency Safety Plan) and a notice of availability for the proposed National Public Transportation Safety Plan (National Safety Plan).

The proposed National Safety Plan is not a regulation, but would provide guidance on FTA’s approach to improving the safety performance of the nation’s transit systems. This plan also would be FTA’s primary tool to disseminate guidance, technical assistance, templates and other resources related to transit safety.

For example, FTA’s proposed National Safety Plan includes guidance for implementing a Safety Management System (SMS), including SMS development phases and sample tasks. The proposed plan also includes a sample safety register, a tool that transit agencies could use to evaluate safety risks within their systems and record the results of their safety risk management activities.

FTA intends to incorporate additional guidance, templates and tools into the National Safety Plan as they become available. As the transit industry grows and evolves, this proposed plan would be updated periodically to meet the needs of the industry and communicate new regulatory programs and criteria to help agencies mitigate their safety risks.

The proposed plan also includes performance management requirements intended to facilitate more effective investment of federal, state and local funds and increase accountability and transparency in decision-making. Among these are four proposed safety performance criteria: fatalities, injuries, safety events and system reliability.

The Agency Safety Plan proposed rule would require any public transportation system that receives federal financial assistance to implement a comprehensive safety plan based on SMS principles. SMS incorporates safety into all aspects of a transit agency, from planning and construction to maintenance and operations.

SMS was first recommended to FTA through the Transit Advisory Committee for Safety (TRACS), a committee comprised of transit industry professionals that provides information and recommendations to FTA on transit safety.

SMS is also used in other industries including aviation, trucking and mining. FTA believes that SMS is the most effective way of preventing and mitigating safety events because it offers a comprehensive, proactive approach to improving the safety performance of an already safe industry and because it is scalable and flexible. FTA has developed resources to help agencies implement SMS in their systems through its SMS Framework and available training for safety personnel.

FTA’s proposed Agency Safety Plan requirements are scalable and flexible. Although all transit operators that receive FTA financial assistance would have to develop and implement a plan, small, rural and tribal operators would have the option of participating in a state-drafted plan. This state plan option would significantly reduce the burden on small operators of developing a plan. Large operators would be required to develop and implement their own plans.

FTA does not intend to collect or approve each agency’s plan. Instead, it has proposed that agencies or states would self-certify their compliance with the proposed rule.

FTA also is working to finalize other rules that will help provide the framework for an overall Public Transportation Safety Program.

The agency expects to publish a final State Safety Oversight (SSO) Rule in early 2016. This rule would strengthen the states’ authority to prevent and mitigate accidents and incidents within the rail transit systems they oversee. Later in the year, FTA anticipates publishing final rules for the Public Transportation Certification Training Program, which sets mandatory training requirements for federal and State Safety Oversight Agency (SSOA) personnel responsible for safety oversight, and the Public Transportation Program, which formally adopts SMS as the foundation for FTA’s approach to safety and establishes procedures to support FTA’s exercise of its enforcement and other authorities under the Safety Program.

In December 2015, Congress passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which directs the secretary of transportation to conduct a study and evaluation of transit safety standards and protocols and issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding operator assaults. In late 2015, FTA accepted a report from TRACS that included recommendations to FTA on preventing and mitigating operator assaults, to which we will refer as we develop an NPRM.

Both the proposed National Safety Plan and the Agency Safety Plan NPRM are open for comment through April 5. FTA is offering an informational session March 16 during the APTA Legislative Conference, so members of the industry can learn more about the documents and ask clarifying questions. Please visit the Calendar of Events on FTA’s website to register for the informational session.

We look forward to receiving your comments and working with you as we continue to implement the new safety program. For more information, please contact Candace Key, acting chief, safety policy and promotion, FTA Office of Transit Safety and Oversight.
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