Passenger Transport - August 17, 2009
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Transportation Legislation Wrap-Up: Congressional Action Needed in September
BY BRIAN M. TYNAN, APTA Senior Legislative Representative
When Congress returns from its August recess on Sept. 8, it will focus on several important transportation-related measures. The debate over a major health care bill overall will likely dominate the discussion in Washington, but critical measures dealing with transportation and the environment will also demand action.
Surface Transportation Authorization/Transportation Trust Funds
Before Congress adjourned, it passed legislation transferring $7 billion from the U.S. Treasury to the Highway Trust Fund to ensure the fund’s solvency through August and September. President Barack Obama signed the legislation on Aug. 7.
The Mass Transit Account, while in decline, is projected to have sufficient resources through at least the end of Fiscal Year 2010.
Legislation transferring general fund dollars to the trust funds was necessary to ensure that states would be able to receive timely reimbursement for work done during the next two months, which are traditionally heavy months for transportation construction.
The health of the trust funds has played a significant role in the debate over a long-term surface transportation authorization bill. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I) Chairman James L. Oberstar (D-MN) has worked to gain support for his six-year legislation that sets federal transportation policy and spending limits for public transportation, rail, highway, and bridge programs. The bipartisan legislation, jointly introduced by the leaders of T&I, increases funding for public transportation by 90 percent over the present funding levels, and includes many policy changes long-sought by the public transit industry. The Obama Administration, however, has continued to press to extend the existing programs for 18 months.
The current law—the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act-A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU)—expires expires Sept. 30; it must either be extended or entirely rewritten to continue federal spending on Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Federal Highway Administration programs.
Congressional leaders have been split on the issue of the 18-month extension proposal versus working in the immediate term to complete a full authorization bill. The most challenging aspect of the legislation remains the question of how to provide new revenues or enhance existing revenues into the trust funds.
Safety Issues Coming to the Forefront
Congress and the administration have focused of late on safety. This includes Congressional hearings linking safety concerns to needed investment; new legislation being offered to alter current oversight and regulations; and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood convening a summit of senior transportation officials, safety advocates, law enforcement representatives, members of Congress, and academics to study current issues regarding transportation safety.
It is likely that these matters will continue to play into efforts to produce an authorization bill, affecting both momentum and substance.
The completion of the annual appropriations bills—to fund all federal agencies and programs for Fiscal Year 2010—awaits elected officials upon their return. Congress has made significant progress on the appropriations front, with the House of Representatives having completed all of its bills and the Senate completing five out of 12. However, the Senate must still take up the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) appropriations bill, and that bill and all others will require conference committee negotiations.
The House THUD bill includes $8.34 billion in formula grants for public transportation, $1.8 billion for New Starts, and $4 billion for high-speed rail. The Senate THUD Appropriations Subcommittee includes $480 million more for New Starts than the House-approved funding level, $1.1 billion for grants to support multi-modal transportation projects, and $1.2 billion for intercity and high-speed rail.
The fiscal year ends Sept. 30; a continuing resolution will be required for the agencies funded by those bills that remain incomplete at that time.
Senate appropriators have reported out a bill that provides a significant increase in funding for the FTA New Starts program—$480 million more than the House and the administration’s budget—while making changes in Bus and Formula accounts similar to those made in the bill passed by the House. The Senate committee’s bill also provides $1.2 billion to high-speed and intercity rail vs. the House’s proposal of a potential $4 billion. Funds were also allocated in the Senate bill for a multimodal competitive grant program, whereas the House provided no such allocation.
Additionally, several provisions making statutory changes to the federal transit program will be points for debate when the bill reaches the Senate floor.
Once the Senate completes its bill, the House-Senate negotiations will begin; these will affect the fate of both the increase in funding for New Starts (Senate) and for high-speed and intercity rail (House). Transportation industry advocates will possibly see a continuing resolution for at least the beginning of October, as Senate floor consideration and conference committee negotiations will likely go beyond the Sept. 30 fiscal year end date.
The outlook for activity on climate change legislation also relies heavily on progress on health care legislation. In the short term, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has asked the multiple committees that will work on the bill to complete their efforts by the end of September, with the potential for full Senate action taking place in October.
The House earlier this year completed its action on H.R. 2454, the “American Clean Energy and Security Act.” The bill was introduced by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Edward Markey (D-MA), chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
Until the Senate completes its action on the bill, no timetable on its final version can be estimated.
Carter, Scanlon, Ford Head Slate of APTA Officers
Mattie P. (M.P.) Carter, a commissioner of the Memphis Area Transit Authority in Memphis, TN, has been nominated by the APTA Nominating Committee for election as APTA’s chair.
Michael J. Scanlon, general manager/CEO of the San Mateo County Transit District and Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (Caltrain) in San Carlos, CA, was nominated for first vice chair, and Nathaniel P. Ford Sr., executive director/CEO of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency in San Francisco, CA, was nominated for the secretary-treasurer position.
The APTA Nominating Committee, chaired by John L. Inglish, general manager/CEO of the Utah Transit Authority in Salt Lake City, UT, met Aug. 10 to select nominees for this year's slate of officers. Nominees will stand for election at APTA's Annual Business Meeting, Oct. 4 in Orlando, FL, during the 2009 APTA Annual Meeting.
Nominated to fill open vice chair seats on the APTA Executive Committee are:
* Vice Chair-Commuter and Intercity Rail: Joseph Giulietti, executive director, South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, Pompano Beach, FL.
* Vice Chair-Management and Finance: Christopher P. Boylan, deputy executive director, corporate affairs and communications, New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New York, NY.
* Vice Chair-Marketing: Alice Wiggins-Tolbert, director, project development, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Atlanta, GA.
* Vice Chair-Small Operations: Peter Varga, CEO, Interurban Transit Partnership (The Rapid), Grand Rapids, MI.
* Vice Chair-State Affairs: Michael A. Sanders, transit administrator, transit and ridesharing, Connecticut DOT, Newington, CT.
Nominated to second one-year terms as vice chairs are:
* Vice Chair-Business Members: Sharon Greene, principal, Sharon Greene and Associates, Laguna Beach, CA.
* Vice Chair-Business Member-at-Large: Delon Hampton, Ph.D., P.E., chairman of the board, Delon Hampton & Associates, Chartered, Washington, DC.
* Vice Chair-Government Affairs: J. Barry Barker, executive director, Transit Authority of River City, Louisville, KY.
* Vice Chair-Human Resources: Doran J. Barnes, executive director, Foothill Transit, West Covina, CA.
Nominated to their third one-year terms as vice chairs are:
* Vice Chair-Bus and Paratransit Operations: Joyce Eleanor, CEO, Community Transit, Snohomish County, WA.
* Vice Chair-Canadian Members: Angela Iannuzziello, president, ENTRA Consultants, Markham, ON.
* Vice Chair-Rail Transit: Gary C. Thomas, president, executive director, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Dallas, TX.
* Vice Chair-Research & Technology: Linda Bohlinger, vice president, national director of management consulting, HNTB Corporation, Santa Ana, CA.
* Vice Chair-Transit Board Members: Flora M. Castillo, board member, New Jersey Transit Corporation, Newark, NJ.
Board of Directors
The following transit system representatives and business members have been nominated to stand for election for four-year terms as regional directors:
* Region I: Ronald J. Kilcoyne, CEO, Greater Bridgeport Transit Authority, Bridgeport, CT; Stanley J. Rosenblum, division vice president, Jacobs, New York, NY.
* Region II: Paul E. Davis, general manager and CEO, Tri-State Transit Authority, Huntington, WV; Larry Yermack, president, Telvent USA, Rockville, MD.
* Region III: Paul J. Ballard, CEO, Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority and Regional Transportation Authority, Nashville, TN; Hakan Eksi, general manager-transit products, L.B. Foster Company Inc. Transit Products Division, Suwanee, GA.
* Region IV: Joseph A. Calabrese, CEO, general manager/secretary-treasurer, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, Cleveland, OH; Robert Andress, vice president, general manager, Global Transit Brake Group, Vapor Bus International-A Wabtec Company, Buffalo Grove, IL.
* Region V: John L. Wilson, general manager, Citibus, Lubbock, TX; Dan Kelleher, business area director, bus and rail, Mark IV Luminator, Plano, TX.
* Region VI: Timothy J. Fredrickson, general manager, Ben Franklin Transit, Richland, WA; John A. Somers, director, transit business development, Clean Energy, Seal Beach, CA.
* Region VII: Joel Gauthier, president and CEO, AMT Montreal (Agence Metropolitaine de transport), Montreal, PQ; Jean-Pierre Baracat, vice president, business development, Nova Bus, St. Eustache, PQ.
The following business members have been nominated to two-year terms as business member directors-at-large:
* Albrecht P. Engel, principal, Al Engel, Telford, PA.
* Ghassan Salameh, senior vice president, Booz Allen Hamilton, McLean, VA.
* Enrique Washington, partner, Generator Group LLC, Beaverton, OR.
* Alan C. Wulkan, managing partner, InfraConsult LLC, Scottsdale, AZ.
For more information, contact Jim LaRusch.
Federal Agencies, Policy, and Partnerships: Themes of Sustainability, Livability Discussed at Workshop
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor
With sustainability at the forefront, the federal government is working to develop green policy through an unprecedented partnership. Representatives of U.S. DOT, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) addressed APTA’s Sustainability and Public Transportation Workshop, attended by more than 130 people in Salt Lake City on Aug. 3.
Panelists at that session, “Greener Communities, Greater Economic Opportunities, Federal Perspectives on Livability and Sustainability,” were Beth Osborne, deputy assistant secretary of policy in the office of the DOT secretary; James Lopez, senior advisor to the HUD deputy secretary, Office of Sustainable Development; and John W. Frece, director of the Development, Community, and Environment Division of EPA’s Smart Growth Program.
“The panelists made various comments about how they intended to work together and the themes they wanted to stress, such as livability and how we connect land use and transportation issues,” said moderator Fred Hansen, general manager of Portland’s Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet). “They noted how this kind of interconnection has not worked well in the past, but the heads of their agencies reached the exact same conclusions on their own: the importance of land use connections, affordable housing, fewer greenhouse gases, and improved quality of life. When they got together to launch a joint statement of goals, they were able to create it in a very short time.”
The participating agencies originally announced their “Partnership for Sustainable Communities” at a June 16 hearing before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, with presentations by DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
Therese W. McMillan, deputy administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, picked up on the same themes in her luncheon address following the panel session. “She focused on the broad issues of the connection among DOT, HUD, and EPA,” Hansen explained. “We need to remove the barriers separating these agencies, she said, but we also need concrete examples of what really works so we can marry the various components of sustainability. Land use, affordable housing, economic development, and minority and low-income communities all have to be part of the plan.”
McMillan also stressed that federal agencies should create a framework in which agencies receive recognition for making positive changes that lead to increased integration of land use and transportation to create more livable communities.
Signatories Speak Up
Another highlight of the workshop was an Aug. 4 roundtable that brought together signatories of the APTA Sustainability Commitment, currently in its pilot stage with 33 signers. Hansen joined J. Barry Barker, APTA vice chair-government affairs and executive director of the Transit Authority of River City (TARC) in Louisville, KY; Kevin Desmond, general manager of King Country Metro Transit in Seattle; Tim Fredrickson, general manager of Ben Franklin Transit (BFT) in Richland, WA; Susannah Kerr Adler, vice president and manager of the Architecture & Buildings Resource Center with Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB); and Lawrence Yermack, president of Telvent USA. “All the participants shared one broad message: that all their communities understand the need to make their operations more sustainable,” Hansen said.
Christopher Leinberger, a visiting fellow in Metropolitan Policy Programs at the Brookings Institution, discussed how the "American Dream" has changed over the years. Specifically, Americans after World War II made their goals a suburban home and a car; these days, he said, people have begun asking for choices that don’t have to include car travel, because they want to walk and be part of a community.
In her remarks at the opening session, Natalie Gochnour, vice chair of Envision Utah and chief operating officer of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, emphasized that public transit and highways must work together to create a balanced solution to environmental issues. “When we’re driving down the street, we need both the gas and the brakes,” she said.
Gunnar Heipp, director of strategic planning for the Munich Transit Corporation in Munich, Germany, and Heather Allen, senior manager-sustainable development with the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) in Brussels, Belgium, spoke about sustainability efforts in Europe and elsewhere. Allen specifically cited New York City’s turning part of Times Square into a non-vehicle zone and said: “When I see this happening in the U.S., I realize you have come a long way and you are becoming leaders again in sustainability.”
The workshop program also included several technical tours. Visitors to the Utah Transit Authority’s (UTA) Meadowbrook bus facility learned about the host agency’s ongoing sustainability efforts (such as working to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent by 2015 through the introduction of new buses with cleaner diesel engines and diesel-electric hybrids, according to Ed Buchanan, manager of safety and environmental) and how UTA is meeting the environmental management commitments made four years ago when the system signed on with ISO 14001 environmental standards.
A major change to this workshop: about half its participants were attending for the first time. “We’re not just preaching to the choir,” said Hansen, “we’re getting new members to join.”
Two Light Rail Lines in Houston
Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County broke ground on two new light rail lines—one running north and one southeast of downtown Houston—and marked a ramping-up of construction on a third line, running east of downtown, at multiple ceremonies July 13. One of the events, held in Houston’s historic Union Station, included the unveiling of a life-size model of the agency’s new CAF train.
“These light rail lines will connect our communities in ways they have never been connected before,” said METRO Chairman of the Board David S. Wolff at the Union Station program.
The three light rail lines will add about 14 miles of light rail to METRO’s existing Main Street Red Line. The construction of two other lines in the future will bring that number to 30 miles of new rail.
Members of the Texas Congressional delegation welcomed the construction, saying the projects would employ thousands and infuse money into the local economy.
The initial phase of the $1.46 billion contract calls for spending $632 million and is expected to generate some 25,000 jobs. Small and local businesses will receive $300 million to $385 million in eligible contract work.
All five lines are part of the METRO Solutions Phase 2 plan, which also calls for more bus service and other programs.
Marysville Park-and-Ride in Washington State
At recent ground-breaking ceremonies for Community Transit’s newest park-and-ride, located at the corner of Cedar Avenue and Grove Street in Marysville, WA, Chief Executive Officer Joyce Eleanor described the “tremendous growth in ridership” in the city and the transit system’s increase in service in north Snohomish County.
“Our three existing park-and-rides in Marysville are full every day,” Eleanor explained. “In just six years, commuter ridership between Marysville and downtown Seattle is up 34 percent.” The new facility will open later this year.
Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA) spoke at the event about the important role of the federal government in public works projects. “One of our top goals is to create jobs,” he said. “That builds a foundation for long term economic growth. Investing in projects like this park-and-ride means jobs. It also eases congestion on the freeway, it eases pollution, and allows people to spend more time with their families.”
The park-and-ride will support commuter service to Everett, downtown Seattle, and Seattle’s University District with 213 parking spaces, as well as motorcycle spaces and bike lockers, and a large shelter for waiting passengers.
Executive Changes at Reconnecting America
Shelley Poticha, president and chief executive officer of Reconnecting America since 2004, has joined the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as senior advisor for sustainable housing and communities. John Robert Smith, the four-term mayor of Meridian, MS, will succeed Poticha at Reconnecting America.
HUD’s Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities will advance housing and communities that promote affordable, livable, and sustainable living environments. It will provide technical and policy support for energy, green building, and integrated housing and transportation programs at HUD, and will manage the department’s key relationships with other federal agencies.
While at Reconnecting America, Poticha had helped forge an interagency partnership between HUD and the Federal Transit Administration to link transit and land use policy and funding, and study the interplay between housing and transportation costs.
Poticha also has co-chaired the Transportation for America campaign, a broad coalition of 350 organizations ranging from AARP to the National Association of Realtors that is working with Congress on a six-year transportation authorization bill.
Smith has served as mayor of Meridian since 1993 and decided not to seek re-election to a fifth term. He has been a member of Reconnecting America’s board for five years and was a founding partner and board member of the organization’s predecessor, the Great American Station Foundation, voting to expand its mission and change its name in 2004.
Reconnecting America noted Smith’s early support of transit-oriented development through the renovation of Meridian’s historic train station, which helped contribute to the revitalization of the city’s downtown area.
TCRP Releases Publications
The Transportation Research Board has released the following new TCRP publications:
TCRP Report 131: A Guidebook for Evaluation of Project Delivery Methods. This report examines various project delivery methods for major transit capital projects, as well as impacts, advantages, and disadvantages of including operations and maintenance as a component of a contract for a project delivery method.
TCRP Report 133: Practical Measures to Increase Transit Advertising Revenues. This report explores strategies designed to significantly increase transit’s share of total advertising expenditures. It considers advertising decision makers’ perceptions about current and future transit advertising products, and highlights a strategic responsive communications plan to improve those perceptions and increase transit revenue.
TCRP Report 135: Controlling System Costs: Basic and Advanced Scheduling Manuals and Contemporary Issues in Transit Scheduling. This report looks at information on available scheduling tools and techniques and their capabilities and provides guidance to transit agencies on a variety of scheduling issues.
These reports are available for order or download through the TCRP web site. For more information, contact Peggy Wilson.
Suicide by Train: Understanding Leading to Prevention
BY SUSAN R. PAISNER, Senior Managing Editor
Every year, nearly 30,000 Americans commit suicide. The methods vary, but the choices are always personal, individual, and specific. As A. Alvarez, author of The Savage God: A Study of Suicide, wrote: “A man who has decided to hang himself will never jump in front of a train.”
Understandably and yet unfortunately, whenever there is a death connected to trains, the immediate public assumption is that the operator or the agency or the train itself is at fault. Compounding this problem are two more elements: it can at times be very difficult to determine whether a death is a suicide, and authorities may be reluctant in certain circumstances to declare that someone has taken his or her life.
Investigating Suicides by Train
About five years ago, Operation Lifesaver, Inc.—a pre-eminent rail safety organization—reached a conclusion that many of the “trespass deaths” they had documented were suicides. Because neither the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) nor the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) requires systems to report suicides—and because suicide comes under the category of “death by trespass”—the agencies issued grants to the American Association of Suicidology (AAS) to investigate these deaths and to try to develop some prevention methods for the future.
There exists no one comprehensive set of data. For example, FRA collects fatality statistics for freight, Amtrak, and commuter rail lines, but not for heavy or light rail. AAS looks solely at trespass deaths, but only those statistics that railroads provide them.
This lack of a standardized database notwithstanding, AAS estimates that of those 30,000 suicide victims, a minimum of 300 of them use trains—both freight and passenger—which translates to not quite one suicide by rail every day of the year, according to Dr. Ramya Sundararaman, research director of the FRA/FTA Suicide Countermeasures Project. According to FRA data, 70 percent of these trespass deaths are freight-related and 30 percent are passenger-rail related. Noting that the AAS data came only from railroads that kept records and decided to provide their information, “this may not be the whole universe because railroads are not required to keep this information,” she said. She added: “I would say it’s an underestimate rather than an exact number.”
According to the FTA Office of Safety and Security, the agency shares the desire of AAS to discern how many suicides occur on the systems because this information is not always captured in the various kinds of reporting formats agencies use.
While they don’t occur frequently, said FTA Senior Public Affairs Officer Paul Griffo, “they have a huge impact on both customers and employees, not only because it’s a very traumatic experience for everyone involved, but also because they can cause part of the system, or even an entire system, to shut down for hours on end.”
AAS’ Karen Marshall, director of this project, agrees. “The impact is much larger than the one death,” said Marshall. “Look what it does to the crews and the people on the trains.”
Finding a Connecting Link
Currently, according to Andrea Price, the grants’ project manager, “there’s no data [on why people use trains to commit suicide]. But the public needs to understand that this does happen.” She added that families are frequently in denial, saying the rail system should have had a fence or a better station platform, but they need to realize that people who kill themselves this way “made a suicide plan for themselves—and when data is kept accurately, it exonerates the companies and the drivers who are not responsible.”
To understand what methods might work best, AAS first tried to understand the motivation and background of the people who have died by suicide on both freight and passenger rail systems. The process they have been using is called a “psychological autopsy,” where staff interview the families of the people who died.
What were they trying to find out? “What leads a person who dies by suicide to be on the tracks at that time to kill themselves?” asked Marshall. If we can begin to get to the bottom of this as a method of choice, then we can begin to design prevention programs around it.” In other words, they are looking for a connecting link.
AAS is writing the FTA portion of the report now. Once it goes through that agency’s clearance process, it will be posted on the FTA web site. The report will cover three elements:
* Retrospective Prevalence. This is a demographic snapshot of the people who have decided to die in this manner. Taking into account age, sex, and race, said Price, the researchers are trying to develop a picture of which groups are at highest risk.
* Causal Analysis. These are the psychological autopsies.
* Physical Site. In looking at rail stations, researchers are examining what structures exist—or don’t—and whether certain structures might impede or prevent access to the tracks, such as increased fencing or planting thorn bushes.
“In order for us to create the political and public will around the subject of suicide, in order to understand and research and create preventive practices for suicide prevention, we need to know the scope of the problem,” said Brian Altman, director of public policy and program development for the Suicide Prevention Action Network USA. “And better reporting will lead to better preventative services,” he added.
Calling this “an issue that is plaguing all transit subway systems,” Vijay Khawani, director of corporate safety for Los Angeles Metro, who has been interviewed for this project, said: “if we can prevent suicide deaths, I think that’s definitely a worthwhile effort to pursue.”
So far, one result from the study is a set of guidelines for media on how to cover these events in such a way so as not to encourage copycats.
“While it’s always tragic when someone decides to end his or her life—it’s doubly tragic when individuals do it in a way that impacts other people—that causes them grief and turmoil. That’s one of the biggest impetuses to do this study: to see if we can avoid that as much as possible,” Griffo said.
A Partnership in Massachusetts
In the greater Boston area, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) has teamed up with Samaritans, a suicide prevention agency in eastern Massachusetts, to try to prevent suicides in its stations by prominently placing signs telling where people can go to receive help.
Scott Farmelant, spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company (MBCR), which provides commuter rail services for MBTA, initiated the partnership.
“Every so often you see a ‘trespasser fatality’—and these often are suicides,” said Farmelant, who has served on the Samaritans’ board since 2003. “Sometimes it takes a long time to establish that fact, but these instances have a real emotional impact on the staff who are required to respond.”
MBTA has posted the signs; MBTA and MBCR are picking up the cost of production and placement; all design was donated by Cole Creative of Boston. The idea is to give people the tools to understand the warning signs and be able to respond appropriately and effectively.
“It’s an area where you could see both parties benefiting from coming together,” Farmelant said. “Suicide is one of the most prevalent public health problems in the U.S. Because of the unfortunate stigma associated with it, however … it often doesn’t get the public attention it deserves. It isn’t talked about, it isn’t discussed—it’s swept under the rug.”
Samaritans Executive Director Roberta Hurtig echoed those sentiments: “There are so many myths that surround suicide and so little understanding of this public health issue.” She added: “Even though I’ve been in this field for 7 years, until I sat down with the MBTA folks, I hadn’t fully appreciated how many deaths happened this way and how traumatizing it is for the personnel involved with it.”
Hurtig sees the MBTA/Samaritans partnership as a way “to help people who might be involved in this understand why people get to such a place of desperation.” Employees will not only better understand the statistics about this issue and some of the prevention work going on in the field; they will also find out about resources available for them should they be involved in a traumatizing incident.
Suicide Prevention in Toronto
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Toronto subway system experienced a dramatic increase in the number of suicides and suicide attempts, a situation that became “very alarming” to management, according to Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) Chief Safety Officer John O’Grady. Because each suicide was subject to a coroner’s inquest, that made it newsworthy, and “we began to suspect a correlation between the coverage and a copycat syndrome,” he said.
Management convened publishers, news directors, and the coroner and said—in the interest of public safety—“This has got to stop,” O’Grady recounted. So they forged a verbal agreement: the coroner would cease conducting an inquest because there was no real purpose (the cause of death was evident), and the news media agreed to stop covering these events. As a result, the number of suicides decreased.
Several years ago, however, the system experienced “a rash” of suicide events, said O’Grady, at which point he worked with a hospital to provide training to TTC staff. The program targeted two groups: those who intervene, such as constables and supervisory staff, and operators—who clearly can’t intervene since they are driving the train, but who may see patrons on the platform who might be agitated.
Both groups received training that sensitized them to suicide issues, increased their awareness, and improved their approach, skills, and knowledge about suicide and suicide prevention. The officers and supervisors also received training on how to approach people: “what to say, what to look for,” said Dr. Paul Links, the Arthur Sommer Rotenberg University Chair in Suicide Studies at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
One module sensitized the participants to suicide issues, making them aware of the underlying problems and community resources, and teaching them how to develop empathy for the victim, while another taught intervention skills. Part of any intervention, permitted by Canada’s Mental Health Act, enables security to arrest a potential suicide victim, remove that individual from the platform, and stay with that person until he or she is transported to a hospital.
A key part of the training is to approach someone who is exhibiting suicidal behavior (such as letting several trains pass, or removing external clothing like a coat or hat) and ask that person directly if he or she is contemplating suicide. “Some of the people trained were quite helped by knowing they could approach the person very directly,” said Links. “They weren’t comfortable doing that prior to the training, but now they had a greater awareness that suicide was preventable.”
The program was a huge success on a number of fronts, O’Grady related. “The operators loved it—saying, finally someone is paying attention to us,” he said. A Ph.D. candidate in Suicide Studies, working under Links, wrote her dissertation on an evaluation of the program, finding that staff’s attitudes and skills had not only changed after training, but six months later had remained stable. “So the program worked,” he added. “We have seen a long-term decline—about 30 percent, until 2007, where the numbers rose slightly.”
The next stage, he said, is the automatic train control system. TTC will receive a new fleet of trains in 2010 and 2011 that can operate in a driverless mode, so the train will stop in exactly the same place every time. TTC is also re-signaling the line so the train doors will line up with the platform doors. With that degree of precision and control, the agency can put a glass wall at the platform edge. Once the train enters the station, access to the tracks will end.
Balancing Risk and Access
“The risk of public transportation is that it’s accessible and, if people are determined to take their lives, it has a high fatality index,” said John P. Hogan Jr., MBCR’s director of safety and security. He added: “In the moment when people are overwhelmed by feelings and impulsivity, what can we do to help them take a pause, to try to interrupt it, to try to intervene?”
Experts note that officials can place suicide prevention barriers on bridges, but “what can you do with tens of thousands of miles of railway tracks?” he asked.
“You never know what is the thing that will make someone pause—and realize that maybe there is in fact another way, maybe there is hope,” Hogan continued. “We’re trying to create an inspiration of hope—and let people know that they’re not alone when they are struggling.”
Guidelines for Media
The American Association of Suicidology has developed a guide for media because it can play a powerful role in educating the public about suicide prevention.
Some of the guide’s recommendations focus on what language to use when writing about a suicide, including:
* In the body of the story, it is preferable to describe the deceased as “having died by suicide,” rather than as “a suicide,” or having “committed suicide.”
* Contrasting “suicide deaths” with “non-fatal attempts” is preferable to using such terms as “successful,” “unsuccessful,” or failed.”
For more information, visit the web site and click on “recommendations for media coverage.”
* More than 32,000 Americans die by suicide each year.
* There is 1 suicide every 16 minutes and 88 suicides per day.
* Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death overall in America.
* There are an estimated 1.4 million attempts per year in the U.S.
* More than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have depression or another diagnosable mental or substance abuse disorder.
* American Association of Suicidology: 202-237-2280.
* National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Help is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.
* Operation Lifesaver. Read Common Sense to learn about Operator Lifesaver’s new rail safety trespass prevention campaign. For more information, call 1-800-537-6224, or visit the web site.
* Get involved in suicide prevention and education at the state level. Find out more here.
* View and download educational brochures about older adult suicide, mental health resources for military families and more.
* Additional resources on suicide prevention and mental health can be found online.
Eno Foundation Plans Board Member ‘Summit’ During APTA Annual Meeting in Orlando
The Eno Transportation Foundation has scheduled a “summit” for transit board members Oct. 7 and 8 in Orlando, FL, in conjunction with the 2009 APTA Annual Meeting.
The purpose of the 1.5-day-long Transit Board Summit, developed through a collaboration of Eno, APTA, and the National Transit Institute, is to enhance board member perspective and leadership capacity by educating participants on the complexities of the business of transit. The program will encourage cross-fertilization of ideas and best practices, allowing new and seasoned board members to learn from each other.
Summit topics will include:
* The Business of Transportation
* Fiduciary Responsibilities
* Performance Measures and Outcomes
* Exercising Board Accountability
* Board Roles and Responsibilities
* Employing the CEO
* The Complexities of Funding Transit
* Communicating the Message
* Regional, National, and International Trends
* The Impact of Board Action
* Developing the Workforce
* Examining Critical Issues
The summit is open to all transit board members, regardless of experience or length of service. The fee is $250 to help defray costs. Interested persons can register online as part of their Annual Meeting registration.
In addition, the Eno Foundation will offer a free half-day orientation session for new transit board members on Oct. 6. This session is designed to help acclimate new members to their positions, prepare them to work with more seasoned board members, and familiarize them with the resources within APTA and throughout the industry.
Future Transit Board Summit sessions will be held in conjunction with the 2010 APTA Legislative Conference, March 14-16 in Washington, DC, and the 2010 APTA Transit Board Members Seminar, July 17-20 in Eugene, OR. These tuition-based programs will be three hours long, covering critical issues to provide a national and international perspective with topics determined on an annual basis.
For more information, contact Lindsey Robertson.
Send Us Your Photos!
APTA is accepting entries through Oct. 2 for the 10th Annual Public Transportation Takes Us There Photo Invitational. Photos from APTA members can cover a range of subjects that depict public transportation’s significance, value, and benefits of opportunity, access, freedom, and mobility. And there’s no fee to enter!
For example, winning photos may show people benefiting from public transportation as they travel to work, appointments, school, events, or countless other destinations. They might depict public transportation vehicles in action with the community—such as participating in a charity event, or they could show transit employees in a variety of natural working conditions. Specific subjects to think about: seasonal activities, promotions, special events, and diverse weather conditions. In other words, a photo of a bus in the middle of a major snowstorm picking up passengers could possibly be the picture used for December in APTA’s calendar!
All entries must be submitted by mail and include a CD containing all photos (high resolution, 300 dpi), along with a color printout of each photo on the CD. Entries must be clearly marked with the entrant’s name, company name, address, phone number, and e-mail, as well as the photographer’s name for photo credit. Entries with people prominently featured must be accompanied by a signed photo release, available at the APTA web site.
All photos entered in the invitational become part of APTA’s photo library, meaning they may be used in a variety of forms besides the annual APTA-sponsored calendar.
Send entries to APTA Photo Invitational, c/o Mark Neuville, 1666 K St. N.W., Suite 1100, Washington, DC 20006. For additional information, contact Mark Neuville.
Dump the Pump Video Contest Open
APTA is offering free public transit rides for a year and an iPod touch to the grand prize winner of its Dump the Pump Video Contest! Second place is six months of free transit, and third prize is three months.
In addition, the first 25 individuals who submit video entries will each receive a $25 VISA cash card.
The videos should describe reasons for dumping the pump—such as saving money, helping the environment, or reducing stress for a better quality of life. Contestants should upload their videos to YouTube by Sept. 18 and tag their submissions with “dump the pump.” APTA will find the entries and add them to its Dump the Pump YouTube channel.
The contest is open to the public. Submitted videos will be judged on creativity, content, and overall impact.
Contest details, including instructions about how to submit videos, are available online.
The CEO as Innovator-in-Chief: Talking with PAAC’s Steve Bland
BY DOUG EADIE
In these rapidly changing, always challenging, and frequently threatening times, one of the public transportation CEO’s top-tier responsibilities is to lead large-scale innovation and change efforts.
Standing pat clearly won’t cut it in these turbulent times, and the nonprofit and public organizations that thrive will be the ones that have learned how to take command of their own change, under the leadership of a CEO serving as the “Innovator-in-Chief,” working in close partnership with a strong board of directors.
Steve Bland, chief executive officer of the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAAC), certainly takes his Innovator-in-Chief role seriously, teaming up with his Board of Directors to launch a number of high-stakes strategic initiatives over the past few years. With a fleet of 861 buses, 83 light rail vehicles, and 48 mini-buses, PAAC provides transportation services to the residents of a 775 square-mile area in southwestern Pennsylvania, including the City of Pittsburgh and all of Allegheny County. PAAC’s 2,750 employees serve approximately 230,000 riders daily and more than 70 million annually.
I recently chatted with Steve about his work as PAAC’s Innovator-in-Chief.
Doug: Steve, what would you say have been your principal contributions to the strategic change process at PAAC, as its CEO/Innovator-in-Chief?
Steve: In the first place, Doug, I’ve always been keenly aware that leading and managing change is a true team sport, if there ever was one. I learned early in my career that a CEO who wants to be a major player in the innovation and change game will work in really close partnership with his or her board and the executive team. Keeping this in mind, my unique contribution to the team at PAAC has been three-fold:
1. I make sure that everyone involved thoroughly understands the context we’re working in – the big picture, if you will. So I function as an intelligence gatherer, bringing together the diverse pieces of the change puzzle: community needs and expectations; organizational strengths and weaknesses; the PAAC Board, in terms of its members’ expectations and its culture; the critical stakeholder organizations that need to be involved; and the shifting priorities of PAAC’s funding and regulatory agencies.
2. In addition to helping everyone involved to understand the context, I function as a structure and process designer, making sure that we’re well organized to manage our own change process. This isn’t as easy as it might sound, because the field of strategic planning is going through a gigantic transformation: moving away from old-time comprehensive long-range planning with its pounds of paper and millions of words to a leaner, meaner process focusing on the highest-stakes issues and a small number of critical change initiatives. By the way, the key piece of the change leadership architecture at PAAC is our Board’s Planning and Development Committee, which is responsible for overseeing the whole change process and ensuring that the whole Board is involved at the right points in the right way. I’m fortunate to have a Planning and Development Chair, Guy Mattola, who built a highly successful office equipment distribution company , has keen entrepreneurial instincts, and relishes playing a leading role in getting change initiatives launched.
3. And third, I’m a facilitator/traffic cop, helping my Board members and senior executives participate productively in key planning and development meetings. I pay lots of attention to making sure that the right people are sitting around the right tables at the right times in our planning process and that these planning sessions achieve their objectives.
Doug: Tell me about some of the highest-stakes initiatives that are in PAAC’s change portfolio right now.
Steve: We’ve launched a number of exciting initiatives in the recent past that have or will yield a powerful return on our investment of precious time and money. Let me tell you about a few of the most important. Our Service Development Plan, which is the first comprehensive review of PAAC’s overall service structure in 30-plus years, is intended to overlay changing demographics and development patterns in the Pittsburgh region, with detailed operating characteristics of our existing service network, in order to recommend changes aimed at improving both efficiency and effectiveness. As part of this wide-ranging process, we’re considering “rapid bus” alternatives in key travel corridors, transit centers as areas of service interaction and neighborhood development, and community-based alternatives for low patronage services. Another important initiative we’ve launched is our automated fare collection/smart card system, which will replace our antiquated fare collection system with new hardware, while simultaneously developing a regional smart card involving PAAC and the 9 other carriers in the Pittsburgh region. Our North Shore Connector, another major initiative underway, will extend PAAC’s light rail system, the “T,” 1.2 miles from the Gateway subway station under the Allegheny River to the North Shore area of Pittsburgh. We’re also working closely with the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development, exploring opportunities for joint development of unused and underutilized PAAC real estate parcels, with the twin aims of generating ongoing revenue streams and upgrading passenger amenities. There are other change initiatives underway, but these are some of the biggies, Doug.
Doug: PAAC obviously has a full change plate that you, your Board and executive team are managing. As you reflect on your Innovator-in-Chief role, Steve, what attributes and skills have proved most important to your success?
Steve: I’ve already talked about being a structure and process designer. Other skills that have served me well include: communicating clearly to diverse audiences about the intended impacts of change initiatives (primarily in person, rather than relying on the written word); maintaining effective media relations (PAAC attracts lots of media attention!), getting across the points we need to make effectively; analyzing the financial and technical alternatives involved in large-scale change projects; and negotiating with key stakeholders whose support is essential to getting initiatives off the ground and fully implemented. And I can think of two attributes that have really helped me play the Innovator-in-Chief role successfully at PAAC. For one thing, I’m not an excitable guy; I have a pretty calm demeanor and you can’t easily get me riled up. This is really important when you’re dealing with a wide variety of people under stressful circumstances. Another attribute that has helped me is that I’m willing to take the inevitable heat that comes with change without wilting or lashing out. My mantra is “It’s not about me, and I don’t have any reason to take it personally.”
Doug Eadie is president & CEO of Doug Eadie & Company. You can reach Doug here.