Passenger Transport - July 5, 2010
Photo by Gary Leonard, Los Angeles Metro
The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) announced the retirement of International President Warren S. George, effective July 1. The ATU General Executive Board appointed Ron Heintzman, currently international executive vice president, to succeed George as the eighth international president in the union’s 117-year history.
Randy Graham became the first Canadian to serve as an ATU international executive officer when he assumed Heintzman’s former post as international executive vice president, also on July 1. Both Heintzman and Graham will serve the remainder of their predecessors’ terms until new elections are held for international offices at the 56th ATU Convention in Orlando, FL, this September.
Heintzman served as an ATU international vice president for seven years before his tenure as international executive vice president. In the latter post, he had responsibility for directing the activities of 18 international vice presidents and four international representatives in Canada and the U.S. He served five consecutive terms as the president of ATU Local 757 in Portland, OR, from 1988 until his appointment to the international post in 2002.
Graham served as president of the 2,000-member ATU local in Ottawa from 1986 to 1995, when he was first elected an international vice president. He was re-elected to that post at every subsequent ATU convention.
Jim Cline, president of the Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA) in Lewisville, TX, is stepping away from that position for an anticipated period of a year to serve in Afghanistan. Cline is a 26-year veteran of the Texas Army National Guard, which called him to active duty as a lieutenant colonel with the 176th Engineer Brigade.
Jim Witt, who served as DCTA president until earlier this year, will return on July 6 to lead the agency as its chief executive officer. He has been working part-time with the agency to stay abreast of ongoing and developing issues.
For the National Guard, Cline was previously assigned as commander of the 386th Engineer Battalion. He has served in various capacities stateside, including liaison officer for the Dallas area during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
“Jim Witt and I share a desire for continuity of leadership during my absence and during this dynamic time in the agency’s history,” Cline said. “Witt returning means DCTA’s positive momentum and aggressive strategy of service delivery can continue unimpeded by my deployment.”
Compact development—incorporating public transportation—can be a key component in efforts to mitigate climate change, according to a new report from the Urban Land Institute (ULI).
Land Use and Driving: The Role Compact Development Can Play in Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions examines the interplay among land use, driving, and energy consumption through a summary of the research and findings of three in-depth studies on land use: two from ULI, Moving Cooler and Growing Cooler, and the Transportation Research Board’s Driving and the Built Environment.
The report identifies trends in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and shows that VMT may decline by 8 to 18 percent between now and 2050 if compact development makes up at least 60 percent of all future development. Demographic trends conclude that the development needed to accommodate major metropolitan growth has not yet been built—presenting a major opportunity to shape land use patterns that will help curb the development of sprawling, automobile-oriented suburbs.
The study is available free for download here.
ENSCO Inc. in Falls Church, VA, has named 29-year employee Gregory B. Young its president and chief executive officer. In this position, he leads strategic direction and all company operations including financial management and performance, business planning and execution, research and development, and corporate and operating division oversight.
Young served as ENSCO’s president from 1994 to 2006 and has been a member of the firm’s board of directors.
The company also promoted Paul W. Broome to executive chairman of the board. He has served on the board since 1990 and was the company’s chief executive officer and chairman of the board from 1997 until 2010.
More than 120 U.S. public transportation agencies, state transit associations, and vendors highlighted the environmental, economic, and energy saving benefits of using transit during the fifth annual National Dump the Pump Day, June 17. APTA sponsored the observance, joined this year by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club.
The ongoing BP oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico brings home the importance of conserving fuel and finding alternatives to the single-occupant vehicle, according to APTA.
Here is a representative sample of Dump the Pump activities.
Jason Parkinson, a disc jockey in Peoria, IL, broadcast his three-hour radio show—using an iPad—the afternoon of June 17 while on board a moving CityLink bus. “I really wanted to do something different and unique to support the idea of saving money on transportation, so taking my entire show to the back of a moving bus just made sense. It will be my first time using public transportation and I really hope others will give it a try too,” Parkinson said.
Metro in St. Louis and its partners hosted special events at the Civic Center MetroLink Station & MetroBus Transfer Center and other sites. Metro employees greeted and thanked customers for using transit, then distributed Dump the Pump stickers, transit information, and entry forms for a special giveaway of prizes including 10-ride ticket booklets, bicycle helmets, T-shirts, and other promotional items.
“We hope people who observe Dump the Pump Day by using Metro Transit will see how convenient and affordable it is and decide to choose us on a regular basis,” said Metro President and Chief Executive Officer Bob Baer. “Dump the Pump Day is the perfect opportunity to find out how beneficial transit can be to take to work, to a Cardinals game, to Fair St. Louis, or to many other events and destinations.”
In Columbus, OH, the Central Ohio Transit Authority joined the Young Professionals of Columbus to launch the YPCOTA Bus Challenge 2010. The partners are using Facebook and Twitter to tell their story about this competition to see who can make the most trips on public transit during that period. The program, featuring meet-ups, a bus scavenger hunt, and other activities, concludes July 15.
The Greensboro Transit Authority (GTA) in Greensboro, NC, invited members of the public to “Heckle the Pump” by submitting their best (family-friendly) jokes about the gas pump, fuel prices, or the automobile. The grand prize was a “Fuel-free Weekend,” including admission to a comedy club, dinner at a restaurant, admission to the North Carolina Zoo, and transit passes to each of these destinations. GTA also may post the winning joke on several buses in the fleet later this summer.
DRI Corporation released a statement in support of Dump the Pump Day, using APTA figures to promote the financial and societal benefits of public transportation. David L. Turney, the company’s chairman of the board and chief executive officer, said: “National Dump the Pump Day ties in well with the company’s noted transit market drivers, including the demand for better mobility and less gridlock, the drive for lower energy consumption, and the need to reduce greenhouse gases.”
Elected officials and representatives of radio stations and fast food restaurants joined the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority in Pompano Beach, operators of Tri-Rail commuter rail, to greet Tri-Rail passengers the afternoon of June 17 at the Boca Raton Station and present them with giveaways.
The Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission in Woodbridge, VA, promoted Dump the Pump with a “Tell a Friend” poster campaign, information on the web site, and a promotional notice to participants in its e-mail subscription service.
King County Metro Transit in Seattle hosted customer appreciation activities, including donated refreshments, during the morning commute June 17 at three transit centers.
The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Capital Metro) in Austin, TX, invited members of its community to become “Ozone Action Heroes” by riding its buses and Capital MetroRail on Dump the Pump Day. Coupons for free rides that day appeared in local newspapers and on the agency’s web site. Capital Metro also promoted the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s “Hero Chronicles” video contest: first prize is a bicycle and second prize is six months of transit passes.
The Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority in Corpus Christi, TX, provided complimentary “Try Transit—Dump the Pump” bus passes to area employers for use on any authority service—fixed, express, or park-and-ride—between June 14 and 20.
The Riverside Transit Agency (RTA) in Riverside, CA, hosted a drawing for free bus passes, open to people who used a day pass, 7-day pass, or 30-day pass on Dump the Pump Day. RTA accepted validated passes by mail until June 30 for a free day pass or 30-day pass.
Working in house, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority’s Marketing Department created a special interior car card to promote Dump the Pump Day.
Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson issued a proclamation recognizing Dump the Pump Day in the state and the Kansas Public Transit Association for its support of public transportation “for a cleaner environment, energy independence, and for a better quality of life.”
Dump the Pump, Add to Ridership
Several public transit agencies reported increased ridership on Dump the Pump Day.
In Springfield, MO, City Utilities reported 7,005 rides on Dump the Pump Day, compared with 4,567 rides the day before and 4,589 rides the day after—a one-day increase of slightly more than 50 percent.
Metro Regional Transit Authority in Akron, OH, operated fare free on June 17 and reported a 42 percent jump in ridership on that day.
The Centre Area Transportation Authority in State College, PA, offered free Dump the Pump Day rides and saw the day’s ridership increase about 23 percent, or about 2,000 passenger trips more than a regular Thursday last year and recent summer Thursdays.
For the third consecutive year, the Blue Water Area Transportation Commission in Port Huron, MI, invited passengers to ride free for Dump the Pump Day. It reported 4,763 rides on June 17, 21 percent (830 rides) more than the previous week.
Dump the Pump Day ridership in Peoria, IL, increased by 1,080 over last year, according to the Greater Peoria Mass Transit District (CityLink).
Rebekah Huang, a summer intern in Caltrain’s Office of Public Affairs, helped pass out reusable bags at the San Francisco Caltrain Station to call attention to National Dump the Pump Day June 17. The arch of black balloons represents the 27,000 gallons of fuel Caltrain riders save every day.
Peoria radio employees Jason Parkinson, left, and Jay Williams set up a live Dump the Pump Day broadcast from the back of a CityLink bus. Members of the agency’s marketing staff were also on board
Florida state Rep. Kelly Skidmore presents SFRTA Executive Director Joe Giulietti with a copy of the state House’s proclamation declaring June 17 National Dump the Pump Day.
BY KATHERINE LEWIS, Special to Passenger Transport
Public transportation systems around the country are implementing new technologies to increase safety and cut costs, from a radio frequency-controlled flashing safety vest and “talking buses” to positive train control (PTC) and collision energy management systems.
Whether their purpose is to reduce the spread of bacteria in trains and buses or increase the effectiveness of safety measures at roadway and track crossings, new technology solutions must work in tandem with programs that educate the public as well as bus and train operators, public transportation officials emphasized.
“Technology is great, and the train still always has the right-of-way,” said Deborah M. Freund, a senior transportation specialist at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. “Although there are a lot of tools on the horizon, we still need to remind truck and bus drivers that they’re the ones who need to take special care when they’re at a highway-rail grade crossing.”
Federal officials are working to more effectively measure dangerous crossings, such as those that would hinder low-clearance vehicles, and install warning signs, Freund said. They’re also working with Operation Lifesaver International to distribute visor cards to remind motor coach operators of safety concerns, and looking at improvements to Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) systems and mapping systems to warn of crossings and track locations.
Talking Buses in Cleveland
In Cleveland, safety officials developed an audible alert triggered by the bus’s steering system in hopes of reducing left-hand turn collisions between buses and pedestrians, which happen three or four times a year, according to Pamela McCombe, director of safety at the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA).
After the public responded negatively to buses making a loud beeping sound, the GCRTA settled on an announcement audible within and outside the bus: “Caution, look both ways. Pedestrians, bus is turning, bus is turning.” Strobe lights installed just above the light signal alert pedestrians who may be hearing-impaired that the bus is turning. McCombe said no bus-pedestrian collisions have occurred since the systems were introduced.
The authority also implemented a new training system, in conjunction with the union, emphasizing the real-world impact of collisions and training operators on a “rock-and-roll” method of seeing around blind spots during a left-hand turn.
“With any safety initiative, it has to be a multi-pronged approach,” McCombe said. “It’s not just the technology. It has to be an evaluation of all the root causes.”
Transform Buses into Mobile Training Units
To help safety officials determine the causes of problems, La Mesa, CA-based Vigil Solutions equips buses with cameras, motion sensors, and data recorders. By providing hard data to evaluate bus operators in real-world situations, transit agencies can identify the weak spots of a given employee, bus route, or highway intersection. Mystery riders can also board the bus with a Pocket PC and the data systems will show acts or concerns they identified as unsafe.
“The real reason that piece of technology is so effective is that we don’t simulate the world; we go out and validate the person’s ability to operate a bus,” said Vigil Solutions President Mark Anderson. “We have a record of it. We add a great deal of clarity to training.”
Overlaying the collected data onto maps in the bus system’s GPS can highlight problem areas and may even prompt a change in bus routes to circumvent a dangerous left turn or identify an accident-prone spot.
“We allow you to become smarter and push that information out to the bus operators,” Anderson said, predicting a 20 to 30 percent reduction in accidents immediately and 60 to 70 percent reduction after training and a year of use.
“Emerging technologies that relate to protecting operators on buses and providing more vision enhancement tools are good for our industry,” said Thomas M. Greufe, senior vice president, safety, Forsythe Transportation Inc. “Video technologies have really helped us provide a safer environment for the bus operator and help deter crashes by allowing us to analyze driver actions and responses to emergency situations.”
Warning Systems for Light Rail Trains
Los Angeles Metro officials knew their most major safety problem was motorists making illegal left turns over the light rail tracks that run alongside the road. They replaced passive “no left turn” signs with an actively flashing “train coming” sign and added photo enforcement cameras at 17 locations, thus reducing the number of left-hand turn accidents by close to 60 percent, said Abdul Zohbi, manager of system safety.
“We have done our part; we expect the public to do theirs,” he said. “You’re putting yourself against 270,000 pounds of mass with momentum and inertia. ... Trying to beat a train at a crossing is not worth the life of your family.”
LA Metro is now testing pavement flashers at the limit line in the left turn lane, so vehicles will see LED lights in the ground in addition to a red left arrow overhead. “Technology has proven effective,” Zohbi said. “We’re the ones who use it and see the positive consequences. We’re not afraid to try anything new.”
Because light rail trains are quiet, worker collisions are a big concern. That’s why Mount Vernon, IL-based Emtrac Systems developed a safety vest for employees of Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County that will light up and flash when an approaching train sets off receivers in the vest. The worker’s location, including whether he or she is at ground level or elevated, is automatically sent to a monitor in the light rail vehicle and the centralized monitor, said Emtrac President Kris Morgan.
“We’re getting requests from every light rail agency in the country about it,” Morgan said. “We’ve got a special radio that the flagmen carry. They can press a button that will alarm the workers as well.”
Emtrac also has a PTC system that can detect a 19-inch spot with 98 percent accuracy and functions in an urban canyon at 100 percent. Through PTC, central computers can keep trains at safe distances and slow down or stop trains. “Just on the stop bar overrun, we were saving close to $1 million a mile on maintenance costs alone” after eliminating the need for loops and switches within the tracks, he said.
Smart Train Warning Systems
GO Transit has equipped 95 percent of its crossings in the greater Toronto area with predictors that evaluate the speed of the train–either freight or commuter--in deciding when to ring warning bells and lower gates and how long to keep gates down, said Grant Bailie, manager, railway corridors.
“You’re getting more consistency with the warning times independent of the speed of the train,” Bailie said. “If motorists sit at a crossing for a really long time, they may think there is a malfunction. That’s what sometimes encourages them to run the gates."
By replacing the old relay-style technology with event recorders and solid state controllers, the system gives a more precise warning of an oncoming train. GO Transit is in the process of replacing its eight-inch incandescent light units with 12-inch LED lights, Bailie said.
In the future, the agency plans to implement remote monitoring and automatic messages sent to maintenance workers’ PDAs in case of malfunction, with all events recorded in a central database for training and reporting purposes. GO Transit has installed cameras in all its locomotives and cab cars to help investigate incidents.
In southern California, Metrolink this spring began testing crash energy management (CEM)-enabled rail cars, which feature collision-absorption technology. “As the latest technological addition to our comprehensive public safety program, these new CEM cars will help save lives,” said Metrolink Board Chairman Keith Millhouse in a statement. With CEM technology, the train is designed so that, in a collision, the passengers will have a nested interior environment that protects them as much as possible.
Tackling the Spread of Germs and Viruses
To prevent germs and viruses from contaminating surfaces, Bombardier is rolling out an antimicrobial surface treatment program to public transportation agencies.
“The program remains effective for up to 12 months and it’s an environmentally friendly product whereby it doesn’t leach off the surface like many of the antimicrobials out there,” said Todd Coulter, manager of project management and engineering for Bombardier Services. “It cannot come off on your hands. It creates an invisible shield over all the interior surfaces.”
Not only does the treatment reduce the need for regular cleaning with harsh disinfectants, Coulter said, it increases the longevity of internal surfaces of vehicles by eliminating molds that can stain or wear down seat cushions and other surfaces.
“Most antimicrobials kill microbes via a chemical kill,” he said. “Ours works on a mechanical kill. It doesn’t produce an environment where there could be superbug adaptations.”
Los Angeles Metro’s flashing signs warn drivers not to turn left if a light rail vehicle is nearby.
An elaborate crosswalk at Pico Boulevard and Flower Street directs pedestrians near a Los Angeles Metro light rail station.
Vigil Solutions provides data systems that can track safety data with a hand-held computer.
The Vigil screen shows problem sites on a bus route.
BY SUSAN R. PAISNER, Senior Managing Editor
Alert today. Alive tomorrow. That could be the catchphrase for how public transportation agencies and their police departments are working together to advance security and safety for their passengers and employees alike.
Several law enforcement experts consulted for this story noted that a systems approach—one that includes people and science—will always work best. In the words of Chief Tom Lambert of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County’s (Houston Metro) Department of Public Safety: “We believe that technology can be a very effective tool to ‘boots on the ground’ as to how we’re mitigating both security and safety issues.”
The funding circumstance for security and safety mirrors that being felt nationwide among transit systems—namely, decreasing revenues, increased demands, and possible cuts in service. But, as Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Police Chief Paul MacMillan in Boston added: “In these difficult financial times, agencies need to stay committed to their security initiatives.”
So, what initiatives can members implement to their jobs better? What innovations are transit systems around the country undertaking in the area of public safety and security? How are technology and people working together? Here is just a sampling.
An Integrated Technological Approach
Houston Metro has 26 park-and-ride lots over 1,285 miles of service area, parking more than 30,000 cars every day. Would it be possible, Lambert and others wondered, to increase the use of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras, open and close gates remotely, work with a public address system from a centralized location, and feed critically important information to responding police officers in real time? In short, the answer was “yes.”
The transit system has 354 cameras, and “no officer can monitor all those at one time,” said Lambert. But the department uses analytics and software intelligence that flag an officer if something is happening. Based on the information provided, the officer can close or open the lot, use the public address system to communicate, and provide information to extra officers responding.
Since launching this initiative, Lambert said, Metro has seen a 50 percent reduction in FBI-categorized Part I crimes (including homicides, burglaries, and auto thefts) in its parking lots. While Denver’s Regional Transportation District and New Jersey Transit Corporation (NJ Transit) use similar models, “as applying it to a parking environment,” he added, “we’re about it, to my knowledge.”
Unexpected but Welcomed Consequences
MBTA has expanded its CCTV system over the past few years, and MacMillan, who chairs APTA’s Committee on Public Safety (COPS), has found it serves a dual purpose: “Not only do we use it [in] real time to develop our situational awareness in a station, but we’re also using it in a forensic manner to identify offenders. We’ve had great success using it that way.”
In addition, police agencies in local jurisdictions served by MBTA notify the authority, either that a person has committed a crime and then gotten on an MBTA train or has used a stolen credit card on the system, and MBTA has been able to assist that agency in identifying the suspect. “It’s a change in the way we do business,” said MacMillan.
On the buses, the camera system can record in real time, but the innovation is that it can transmit an image to a responding police cruiser directly behind it—“a technology that has paid dividends for us as well,” he said. He added: “As money permits through the grant process, we’ll continue to expand.”
Safety vision security systems, initially installed on buses to provide security deterrence, are now routinely used in accident investigations and to identify individuals, which often leads to their arrest. Lambert calls this process “leveraging” and adds: “Although you may start with one functional expectation, you can learn so much that at first blush you didn’t focus on. That’s when you challenge yourself to keep learning to benefit the customers and the quality of safety and security you provide to them.”
Houston Metro has installed in-pavement lighting at railroad crossings, so when a motorist approaches an intersection and the light turns red, the in-pavement lights—light up. “We had to work with the Federal Highway Administration to get their agreement in a pilot program,” said Lambert, “but it seems to have been very effective at reducing accidents at those locations.”
Another effort he cited involving lights is the backdrop of a signal head that lights up with red when a train is approaching at the cross-street intersection.
Securing a New Rail Yard and Member City Cooperation
A project new to Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), based on NJ Transit’s system of thermal imaging intrusion detection, will secure the new rail yard built in conjunction with the doubling of their track. “This is a lot more sophisticated than our previous system,” said Jill Shaw, DART’s manager of emergency preparedness. “We’re hoping it works out because we just received an FY 2010 grant for a tunnel intrusion system based on the same technology.”
With the rail expansion, Shaw noted, emergency responders in cities served by the train “are taking an incredibly active effort in learning about rail safety and security and responding to incidents on the rail.” She added that they have been “very proactive” in ensuring their employees are trained “ahead of time,” meaning before any trains start service.
Lambert worked with Houston’s public works department to program signal timing to allow queue jumping for trains. As the train comes to a signalized intersection and receives a signal to stop, it gets extra time to go through. Trains get a head start so drivers will see them and cease trying to make left-hand turns.
The system has experienced no left turn accidents since beginning this program in 2008.
A Commonality of Concerns
“Everybody is dealing with the issue of manpower now; everybody is doing more with less, due to budget cutbacks,” said Sgt. Charles Rappleyea, who heads up the Charlotte/Mecklenburg Police Department transit police unit for the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) and serves as COPS vice chair. “Much of safety and security is very manpower-intensive—and people would always rather see a police officer than a camera—but personnel is very expensive,” he said, which is why the ability to leverage technology is essential.
DART’s Shaw agreed, but added a cautionary note: “Technology is wonderful, but it will never replace people. The biggest part of the security system is not the money and equipment, it’s our operators, our employees, and our customers—it’s the people watching things. You can’t make a computer do that.”
Public Transportation: One of the Safest Ways to Travel
Simply put, public transportation is one of the safest ways to travel. According to DOT statistics, there was an annual average of only one passenger fatality on heavy rail (subway) between 2003 and 2008, and no passenger fatalities on light rail transit (streetcars, trolleys) during the same period.
Also for this time period, transit bus travel resulted in 0.05 deaths per 100 million passenger miles, compared to 1.42 deaths for motor vehicles. Highway fatality numbers average almost 42,000 over that six-year period; 32,000 of those involved motor vehicle occupants.
Individual public transportation systems have established system safety plans and programs. Key elements to their continuing to provide safe services and work environments include employee training, rules and procedures, and safety inspections. All of these programs work to create a culture of safety throughout the public transit agencies.
APTA’s safety promotion efforts include the Rail Safety Audit Management Program; more than 25 years of safety peer reviews; standards for heavy rail and light rail designed in conjunction with industry professionals, technical experts, labor representatives, the federal government, and other professional organizations; and safety research—both in-house and through the Transportation Research Board’s Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP).
APTA’s bus operators launched a standards program several years ago with funding from TCRP and the Federal Transit Administration. The first bus standards were approved in May 2005.
Personal Safety and Security
To help residents feel safer—and ultimately be safer—while using public transportation, especially after dark, many police departments (including those in transit systems and universities) have developed common sense steps to take. These include:
* Beware of overheard conversations. Don’t tell anyone on the bus or a subway where you are going.
* Stay awake and alert.
* Wait at busy, well-lit stops.
* Have exact change or your fare pass ready and in hand when boarding.
* Try to sit near the driver, particularly during non-rush hours.
* If someone on the bus bothers you, change your seat and inform the driver.
* If anyone harasses or threatens you, scream to call attention to yourself and the situation.
* Look around when getting off the bus, train, or trolley, and be aware of those around you.
* If you sense someone is following you when you leave, walk toward a populated area or into a retail establishment. Do not walk directly home.
Older residents can become increasingly vulnerable as they age; they might notice a loss of strength, balance, or dexterity. These physical changes can have a significant impact on them as they travel on public transportation. While all the tips suggested are relevant, older residents can also take some additional steps to ensure their physical safety:
* When you enter or leave a vehicle, watch for slippery or uneven pavement and other hazards that could cause you to fall or twist an ankle. With the same thought in mind, try not to carry so many packages that you don’t leave one hand free to grasp railings.
* Always watch your step when boarding, as there is usually a gap between the edge of the train platform and the subway door.
* Have your fare or transit card ready and in hand before you board so you don’t risk losing your balance while perhaps searching for correct change.
* If you are traveling at night, try to wear light-colored clothing so you can be seen easily by both drivers and other pedestrians.
By using common sense and taking a few simple precautions, older riders can enjoy independence and the travel options that public transportation offers.
Both public transportation providers and the vendors that serve them understand the primary importance of safety and security to their operations. So far in 2010, APTA has prominently featured educational sessions on related topics during the Bus & Paratransit Conference in Cleveland and the Rail Conference in Vancouver, BC. Here are brief synopses of some of these presentations, which address the issue from numerous perspectives.
Fighting Distracted Driving
For example, distracted driving—a problem facing both bus and rail systems—was the main focus of “Achieving Safety Excellence for the Transit Industry,” a session at the bus conference that considered ways for transit operators and vendors to work together toward a goal of improved service.
Robert Bartels, vice president, product management, for DriveCam in San Diego, explained that his firm’s video surveillance equipment plays an important part in post-accident reviews as it “allows us to see the root cause—to see the risky actions of the drivers …. The idea, of course, is for safer drivers to go back on the road. We’re striving to prevent collisions, to capture those risky behaviors early on.”
Bartels also listed three types of distracted driving—visual (eyes off the road), physical (hands off the wheel), and cognitive (mind off driving)—and noted that a vehicle going 60 miles per hour will travel one and a half blocks in the 5 seconds an operator may spend texting or talking on a cell phone. “Texting with a hand-held device involves all three [types]. That’s why it’s so dangerous,” he added.
Brenda Himrich, rail and bus safety manager with Metro Transit in Minneapolis/St. Paul, said her agency uses the “three Es: engineering, education, and enforcement” to deal with distracted drivers. Late in 2009, Metro Transit increased the consequences of a cell phone violation to 20 days off without pay for a first offense. Drivers can still carry their phones, but only if the phones are turned off and stowed.
Ensuring Safety in Rail Corridors
Another safety concern—keeping pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists out of harm’s way in a rail corridor—was the subject of a rail conference session titled “Pedestrian and Motorist Safety in a Railroad’s Path.” As Dan Cleghorn, P.Eng, senior product manager of HDR/iTrans in Toronto, noted: “Pedestrians don’t have many collisions with trains, but the ones they do have are severe.”
Cleghorn offered ways to increase awareness of the safety situation for both light rail operators and the pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists who travel near rail tracks. “We have to provide special, intensive, and location-specific training to the operators,” he said, “and provide active, appropriate information to the public on how to drive, walk, or cycle near, and where necessary, within the light rail alignment.”
Allison L. Clavelle, a transportation planner with HDR/iTrans, gave examples of different warning technologies at rail tracks: plain or illuminated signs; pavement markings in addition to signs; crossing signs, signals, or gates to keep pedestrians away from the tracks when a train is arriving; or a barrier between the two tracks.
Controlling Effects of a Pandemic
A third area of concern, “Pandemic Risk Management,” was the topic of a session at the bus conference. Capt. Lynn A. Slepski, Ph.D., RN, senior public health advisor in the Office of Intelligence Security and Emergency Response in the Office of the Secretary of Transportation, reported that last year’s threatened H1N1 flu pandemic was much milder than expected, then listed what steps to take for the future.
“Had we truly been infected by a disease with high mortality, our best planning still would have fallen short. We truly ducked the bullet,” Slepski said. “We’re trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t work right now. We figured out that any plan musts be flexible, which means adaptable.”
Curtis White, chief executive officer and director of research and development for AEGIS Environments, noted that microbes—which he called “the littlest of pests, the biggest of problems”—are everywhere, present on surfaces and in the air. “The economic consequences are enormous,” he stressed. “The reality is there is no magic bullet, no simple solution—so we must take a holistic approach and develop a plan to integrate how to take care of our facility and systems.”
Stephan R. Luther, safety and training officer for the Interurban Transit Partnership (The Rapid) in Grand Rapids, MI, noted that his agency had guidance on dealing with a pandemic from the Centers for Disease Control, county governments, and the World Health Organization. “The problem was, how do we then take that and give it to our employees in a way they can understand and act on it?” he said.
The basic educational presentation for Rapid employees, he said, included five components: wash hands frequently with soap and water; use cough and sneeze etiquette; develop healthy habits; stay home if sick; and get vaccinated.
Coping with Emergency Situations
Emergency preparedness must be both a system-wide and a region-wide effort if it is to succeed, panelists emphasized at “Emergency Preparedness and Management … An ‘All Hazards’ Approach,” a bus conference session also webcast to transit professionals at remote locations. For example, Sgt. David Forst of the Transit Police Department of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA), described the regional strategy that brings his agency together with partners to design system security and evacuation plans. In this process, he said, GCRTA drivers serve as first-line responders. Other intelligence sharing comes from Federal Transit Administration and Transportation Security Administration e-mail groups and state and local efforts.
“It’s always best to meet other responders before you meet them at an incident,” said John Plante, senior manager, system safety and environmental affairs, with the Chicago Transit Authority. Crafting a multi-hazard, multi-agency response in advance of an actual threat allows the participants to coordinate, plan, and interact before the situation becomes dire, he explained.
Randy Clarke, director of safety initiatives for Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), described how the authority mandates station-specific evacuation plans and how to maintain operations in the midst of an emergency. He noted that MBTA has purchased and placed 512 evacuation chairs throughout the system, to be used to transport special needs customers from an emergency site.
Implementing Positive Train Control
The federal government has mandated that passenger rail operations have fully operational Positive Train Control (PTC) by 2015. A wide range of infrastructure, operating characteristics, and equipment in the field means that every plan will be different, but some challenges are common—such as time constraints and costs.
Commuter rail operators shared their approaches and challenges to PTC implementation at a rail conference session titled “Positive Train Control Plans.”
Moderator Peter Sklannik, senior manager, rail planning and special projects, at Parsons Brinckerhoff in Newark, NJ, suggested that Congress “give us a second look, as many properties are just trying to stay in business.”
Howard Permut, president of New York’s MTA Metro-North Railroad, said the estimated cost to install PTC is $350 million. MTA Long Island Rail Road also has noted that high capital costs and funding shortfalls are big challenges, and a joint team representing both railroads is working with consultants to complete the design by the first quarter of 2011.
However, Permut noted the shortage of adequate time, which necessitates “almost immediate decisions on design and implementation with inadequate time for proper review, consideration of alternatives, and testing.”
Thomas Lichterman, director of operations with the North County Transit District (NCTD) in Oceanside, CA, described the “tremendous capital needs” facing his agency’s PTC implementation and that the “solution must be coordinated with the four tenant railroads [Metrolink, Amtrak, BNSF, and Pacific Sun] to ensure interoperability.”
Gary Jarboe, director of maintenance with the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, operator of Metrolink commuter rail in Los Angeles, said FRA has approved Metrolink’s PTC program, which is about “90 percent funded” and will be ready for testing by December 2012, noting the [federal] mandate is for 2015.”
Gerald Hanas, chair of the APTA Commuter Rail Committee and Commuter Rail CEOs Subcommittee and general manager of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, Chesterton, IN, stressed that all operators face the challenges of technology, timing, and costs, but that “one mandate across the U.S. takes no consideration that we’re all different. What will help is extension of time to explore cost-efficient alternatives and spread funding needs,” he added.
Kathy Golden, Susan R. Paisner, and Susan Berlin contributed to this story.
Photo by Sam Adamo
BY CHUCK McCUTCHEON, Special to Passenger Transport
As the federal government seeks an increased role in rail safety, public transit systems are making their own improvements and assessing the impact of new government mandates.
Recent incidents have led transit systems to take a number of steps ranging from installing new crashworthy trains to upgrading worker training. Some have instituted their own safety measures—the most active of which has been the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, operator of Metrolink commuter rail, recovering from two accidents—in 2005 and 2008. Earlier this year, Metrolink took delivery of the first of 117 Korean-made crash energy management-enabled cars featuring crash-absorbing, collapsible impact zones. Last year, Metrolink also put in place outward and inward video cameras in all locomotive cabs.
John Fenton, Metrolink’s new chief executive officer, stressed the “real strict correlation” he sees “between how well a company runs and how well they perform safety. What I’m trying to do now is implement an attitude of continuous improvement.”
The Regional Transportation District (RTD) in Denver installed approximately $3 million worth of safety improvements, including automatic train-stopping technology for the light rail system. RTD officials also tightened their policies on worker cell-phone usage, conducted more safety spot checks, and used $5 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to install an intrusion detection system to serve as a warning on derailments.
David Genova, RTD’s assistant general manager for safety, said operators are being put through a refresher course on safety. The agency has also installed emblems and stickers on its entire fleet of buses and trains to raise public awareness.
Paul O’Brien, rail service general manager for the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) in Salt Lake City, said his agency has been constantly reviewing its training policies. “We started out with good training, but one of the things we’ve learned is that you never stop training,” he said.
Federal Oversight Legislation
In response to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority accident in June 2009 and others, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee; ranking minority member Richard Shelby (R-AL); and transportation subcommittee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced a safety reform bill last week (unanimously approved in committee) that would give the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) the first-ever regulatory authority over heavy and light rail as well as buses. The legislation also would provide federal funds to State Safety Oversight agencies for hiring, training, inspections, and other safety-related activities.
Despite Congress’ crowded election-year legislative agenda, FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff told Passenger Transport that “we think that a bill focused on as critical a need as safety cannot wait.”
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also has announced the 20 members of the Transit Rail Advisory Committee for Safety, a newly formed panel that will assist FTA with developing national safety standards for rail transit; committee members represent transit systems, unions, state DOTs, and other agencies and associations.
At the same time, Rogoff said his agency has begun exploring how it will grow if it is granted expanded regulatory authority. “Our goal is not to create the FRA rulebook; we want to make sure we address the unique safety challenges and not think that we can dictate within the Beltway what we want,” he said. “We want Dallas and Salt Lake City to focus on what their greatest vulnerabilities might be, and it may be a different answer whether you’re looking at Salt Lake City or Dallas.”
The legislation includes a number of elements that APTA President William Millar, in testimony before Congress, noted that the industry wanted, such as adequate staffing and training for FTA and basing rail safety regulations on APTA consensus-based standards.
Positive Train Control
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) already has legislative authority to provide safety oversight of commuter rail. After the Metrolink accident in 2008, Congress directed FRA to step up safety efforts regarding commuter rail operations through a law calling for all trains carrying passengers or dangerous chemicals to be equipped with positive train control (PTC) systems by 2015.
FRA is reviewing the PTC implementation plans submitted by systems by the April 16, 2010 deadline, said Grady Cothen, deputy associate administrator for safety standards and regulations. “In general, I think everybody has done a workmanlike job in trying to identify their path to PTC by 2015 as required by statute,” Cothen said. “We’ll be having conversations with [applicants] and, if we have issues that we need to work out, we’ll talk to them.”
The regulation is expected to cost the transit industry more than $2 billion for the necessary hardware. Many transit agencies—and their representatives in Congress—are struggling to identify where to come up with that much money.
“Everybody has a little bit of anxiety because there are some things that are a little bit unclear,” said UTA’s O’Brien.
Matt Tucker, executive director of the North County Transit District (NCTD) in Oceanside, CA, which operates the Coaster and Sprinter rail systems, said a consultant estimated the agency’s potential capital cost alone from $60 million to $90 million. An expense of that size could result in other projects being delayed, he noted, such as replacing several bridges that are at least 75 years old.
“If we don’t get federal money, PTC takes about 90 percent of our available capital program,” Tucker said. “We’ve started getting the message out and talking to our congressional delegation and the feds. We’re trying to offer suggestions for what to do—extend the requirements, have pilot projects. We’re in support of increased safety, but like everything else we have to evaluate what are the best projects for it.”
For now, FRA is making available $50 million in rail safety technology grants using Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 appropriations.
FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies at an April 29 hearing that, instead of providing grants to a single railroad or combination of railroads, he hopes the $50 million can be used “for those kinds of things that can be broadly shared” and benefit the industry as a whole. That approach, he said, was part of the reason FRA did not seek any PTC-related funding in FY 2011.
Szabo also told lawmakers that funding could potentially be made available for passenger railroads through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, in addition to the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program. “We do believe there are some options out there,” he said.
Joe Giulietti, executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority in Pompano Beach, FL, and APTA’s vice chair-commuter and intercity rail, said giving out loans “makes sense for a freight railroad,” but not “for a passenger system that lives year-to-year” in terms of how much flexibility it has in its budget.
Christopher Boylan, APTA vice chair, management and finance, is the deputy executive director, corporate and community affairs, for New York State's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the two largest and busiest commuter railroads in the nation—MTA Long Island Rail Road and MTA Metro-North Railroad. He said: “Surely a lot more money is needed, but there are also a host of technical and logistical issues ahead of us that need to be resolved in order for us to achieve our PTC implementation goals. Developing PTC technologies that can be proven to reliably work in high-density commuter rail applications and securing sufficient radio spectrum to operate PTC systems in those environments will most certainly be equally challenging.”
Safety Programs Also Focus on Bus Systems
Some recent steps taken to make rail transit safer—such as creating an improved safety culture--also will benefit bus systems, according to several transit agency officials.
Matt Tucker, executive director of the North County Transit District in Oceanside, CA, said his agency has started taking “a more systematic approach to safety” to encompass its entire fleet of buses and trains. “We’re starting to look at all of our policies to make sure we’re enforcing safety, and the intent is to bring that same protocol and discipline to the bus side,” he said.
At Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD), officials are doing something similar: putting bus workers through safety refresher courses and rolling out a new poster and banner campaign stressing safety on both buses and trains, said David Genova, assistant general manager for safety.
“We’re also doing more with management visibility, making more direct contact with operators on the street,” Genova said.
The evolution and integration of video camera systems and the development of tracking technology can apply equally to buses and trains, said Joe Giulietti, executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority in Pompano Beach, FL, and APTA’s vice chair-commuter and intercity rail. “You’re seeing some of the same things going on with buses that you see with rail,” he explained.
Several cities, including Cleveland and Houston, are using technology to alert pedestrians when buses are turning. And Miami has been at the forefront of developing barrier doors to protect bus drivers from flying debris.
FTA has been given the legislative authority to regulate buses, but FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff said his focus for now is on rail, given the greater speeds at which trains travel and the larger number of passengers they carry.
“It’s not clear that we would regulate bus safety in the way we are trying to regulate rail safety,” he said. Rogoff added, however: “When it comes to the State of Good Repair, we are equally focused on bus and rail. There are a good many needs.”
BY MICHAEL LEMESHKO, Supervisor, Transit Safety, King County Metro Transit, Seattle, WA
Walking down the street in Washington State may seem like an innocuous activity, but each year hundreds of pedestrians are seriously hurt or killed in accidents. Both in urban hubs such as Seattle and Bellevue and in the suburbs and rural areas, pedestrians and motor vehicles come into too-close contact each day.
This year, King County Metro Transit is embarking on a safety awareness campaign targeted at reducing pedestrian accidents in and around transit hubs.
According to the National Highway Traffic Association, 5,000 Americans are killed in pedestrian accidents each year. Shockingly, a vehicle hits a person every eight minutes in the United States.
Recent pedestrian accidents involving transit agencies in the northwestern U.S. underscore the stark reality that professional drivers are not immune to risk. Any motor vehicle operator can mistakenly filter out important sensory information at a critical point, resulting in a close call or—even worse—striking a pedestrian.
Out on the sidewalk, pedestrians are often victims of “distracted walking.” They may start texting while listening to music, then enter an intersection with very little awareness of the traffic around them.
This failure to see and process important sensory data by both drivers and pedestrians is called inattentional or selective blindness. It is a major factor in pedestrian-vehicle accidents attributed to human error.
King County Metro Transit launched its internal pedestrian-awareness campaign, titled “Wake-Up Call,” at its Annual Safety Summit June 23. Almost 100 representatives from the host system, Sound Transit, and the Washington State Patrol attended the event.
Metro is piggy-backing its activities on Washington State DOT’s “Target Zero” safety initiative. That statewide partnership has an ambitious goal of reducing traffic fatalities and serious injuries on state highways to zero by the year 2030.
“No bus driver wakes up in the morning thinking they’re going to have an accident, and no one can predict what you’ll find out on the road.” said Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond. “That’s why our safety officers stress that the most dangerous mile is the mile just ahead.”
He continued: “We always remind our operators that they should never sacrifice safety for schedule. I think our new campaign will be an important reinforcement of the training and safety programs we already have in place.”
The Wake-Up Call program focuses on several key areas for transit operators:
* Overcoming factors that affect driver attention such as low-contrast lighting, multi-tasking while driving, and repetitive routines;
* Using advanced eye techniques with active scanning;
* Strategies for navigating through intersections; and
* Improving turning safety.
At Metro, safety training is collaborative. The agency’s 2,800 full- and part-time operators work out of seven transit bases, each with a dedicated safety officer and a safety committee made up of operators and supervisors. Committee members host safety fairs to share tips and concerns, assist with one-on-one safety mentoring, and serve as a liaison with other work groups involved in safety issues.
Once the Wake-Up Call campaign is well underway internally, Metro will focus outward and educate the public on its roles and responsibilities as pedestrians.
“Our bus drivers are seeing more and more oblivious pedestrians,” said Metro Safety Officer Darryl Russell, a former Washington State Patrol trooper.
Russell said his team wants to start with addressing bus riders, particularly when they are exiting. He said many treat a Metro bus as like a school bus with paddles—that stop all traffic when passengers disembark.
“They’ll get off the bus and then run in front of it to cross the street, regardless of the oncoming traffic,” he said. “Just a simple message of ‘Cross after the bus leaves’ cannot be said often enough.”
In a video greeting aired at the June Safety Summit, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire thanked Metro for taking a big-picture look at the problem.
“I am especially pleased that you are addressing the topic of pedestrian safety, since there were more than 60 pedestrian fatalities statewide last year,” said Gregoire. “As the largest transit agency in the state, Metro is to be applauded for continuing to make safety its top operational goal. I congratulate Metro—and the partners gathered for the summit.”
BY LAURA SCHEPER, Orange County Transportation Authority, Orange, CA
Almost 400 Boy Scouts from throughout southern California came to Knott’s Berry Farm theme park in Buena Park, CA, on a recent Saturday morning for a day of discovering the behind-the-scenes operations of the railroading industry. The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) partnered with the Boy Scouts of America and the park to present Railroading Merit Badge Day.
Scouts must complete eight different requirements to earn the merit badge, from learning safety tips near railroad tracks to planning a trip and visiting a historic railroad. OCTA and its partners assembled four stations throughout the park where the Scouts could complete the various tasks while also enjoying the park’s attractions.
Before the park opened to the public, the Scouts explored antique rail cars, including one that belonged to the president of the Rio Grande Railroad; discovered the various rail signals and functions in a working maintenance facility; and received a lesson in rail safety.
“Educating the public and the younger generations is an important element as commuter rail services increase throughout the nation and high-speed rail becomes a reality in the United States,” said OCTA Chief Executive Officer Will Kempton.
The outreach effort is part of OCTA’s comprehensive rail safety program, which includes public awareness regarding safety near the tracks and safety enhancements at more than 50 railroad crossings throughout the county.
Between January and November 2009, train-related accidents caused more than 80 deaths in California, most of them occurring during daylight hours. Recent research showed that 80 percent of Orange County residents are not aware of rules and regulations concerning railroad tracks and 64 percent disregard rail warning signs.
“It’s interesting to hear how many people are killed crossing the tracks,” said Karen Allen, a parent of one of the Scouts. “They think it is OK [to cross], when in actuality the trains are moving so fast that people don’t realize it. It’s good for the boys to learn how to be safe.”
Through the hands-on activities, one consistent theme emerged: the importance of rail safety and not trespassing around railroad property. The day began with a presentation on rail safety and how to stay out of harm's way around the railroad tracks.
The participants found the day’s events both educational and fun. “I enjoyed the opportunity to go behind the scenes and see the inner workings of the railroading equipment here at Knott’s,” said Boy Scout Austin Lee from Troop 985.
Gary Babich of Troop 716 added: “I have learned that there are different signals that you use to mark what trains do, different light signals and whistle signals, and there are also ways to keep yourself safe around trains. My favorite part of the day was riding on the train because I got to learn how the executive of the railroad lived.”
“We learned what not to do when you’re near a railroad track and about the private property the railroad company owns,” said Jeff Willard, a Boy Scout from Troop 671.
Outreach to Youth
Reaching kids and evoking change is a challenge as traditional communication tactics may fall short. David Walsh, a psychologist with the National Institute on Media and the Family, told USA Today: “It’s become harder over the last 10 years to keep kids’ attention. The expectation is to be constantly entertained and, if they’re not entertained, they quickly lose interest.”
This interactive event allowed kids 8 to 17 to understand the importance of rail safety in a number of capacities and gain insight into possible railroad industry careers.
“The boys learned about the history of our state and county, about American ingenuity and craftsmanship, and about rail safety,” said Chris Mattison, a day camp director with the Boy Scouts. “They really enjoyed themselves and I’ve had a couple even tell me they want to work on the rails when they get older.”
Nearly 90 percent of the participating Scouts and parents said they would recommend the event to a friend.
“This was a unique opportunity,” said Colleen Metzger, a volunteer with the Boy Scouts. “It is really important for the kids to have the safety lessons to take back to their younger siblings, schoolmates, parents, and family.”
Metzger said Scouts have few opportunities to learn about railroading. About 196,800 have received the badge since its introduction in 1952—compared with more than 6.5 million Scouts who have earned the most popular merit badge, first aid.
OCTA plans to hold an additional Railroading Merit Badge Day in the future and is collaborating with the Girl Scouts of America for a similar experience.
BY NATHANIEL P. FORD SR., Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, San Francisco, CA
While customers will begrudgingly swallow the bitter pill of service reductions and fare hikes, there is zero tolerance for the perception of inadequate transit security and enforcement. Though budgetary constraints affect this arena as well, new ideas and best practices must be cultivated to ensure effective levels of customer safety and security.
Recently, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which operates the city’s bus and rail system (Muni), joined forces with the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) to advance an enhanced, shared ownership approach to thwarting crime on the city’s bus routes and rail lines.
Spearheaded by SFMTA Director of Transit John Haley, the new enhancements to the SFMTA/SFPD arrangement include establishment of a dedicated Muni Task Force (MTF) to supplement the existing Muni Response Team and more active police department involvement in developing and implementing Muni enforcement plans through the SFPD’s 10 district captains. SFMTA also has initiated other crime abatement measures—including the robust deployment of additional video surveillance cameras on Muni vehicles and throughout the Muni system and the installation of DriveCam, a driver risk mitigation system, on all its trolleybuses and biodiesel and biodiesel-electric hybrid buses.
As a result of these and other efforts, Muni-related criminal activities, as well as operator safety violations, dropped dramatically in the last quarter of 2009.
With both the SFPD and the SFMTA acknowledging transit crime as a broader public safety issue, the two city agencies have combined their respective resources in a concerted effort to reduce criminal activity on Muni, according to Deputy Chief John Murphy, the man tasked with cracking down on Muni crime.
A new SFPD Operations Bureau order drafted by Murphy uses real-time Police Department crime statistics fed into a database created by the city controller’s office. The database creates charts that identify peak days, times, coaches, or rail lines where crime occurs. The district station captains use the statistics to develop their enforcement strategies on a monthly basis.
The Operations Bureau order places the onus on the SFPD district captains to develop and implement enforcement plans for their respective districts. The captains submit monthly enforcement calendars to Murphy, who uses them to coordinate enforcement operations with the MRT and MTF teams.
The city’s 10 district captains now have detailed statistics of what crimes are being committed, where, and when, and Muni has the dedicated resources of the SFPD. “We’re putting cops on dots where the crimes are committed,” said Murphy.
Another boon to enforcement has come from development of the SFPD MTF. Funded by the Federal Emergency Management Administration and a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) grant, this group of one sergeant and seven plainclothes officers targets the most problematic coach, rail, and trolley lines based on crime statistics. These officers conduct a variety of plainclothes enforcement operations and support the SFPD district captains in follow-up investigations and in locating perpetrators of crimes on Muni.
Since deployment of the MTF teams began in March of this year, the number of Muni-related crimes has dropped from 114 incidents in March to 58 in May.
Additionally, the SFMTA has beefed up deployment of video surveillance cameras on the majority of Muni vehicles and installed DriveCam surveillance cameras on its entire rubber-tire fleet. Since the introduction of the DriveCam system in November 2009, commonly identifiable infractions or “scored events” have decreased 33 percent and the severity of incidents decreased by 35 percent. DriveCam has also enabled the SFMTA to establish a recognition program and has identified 250 “Champions of Safety,” drivers who have exhibited exemplary driving skills.
The agency also has deployed surveillance cameras at Metro underground platforms and various Muni facilities, tunnels, bus shelters, and terminals. These additional cameras have been valuable in resource allocation, incident investigation, identifying perpetrators of Muni crime, and assisting claims investigators.
With customer safety and security at the forefront of the SFMTA’s priorities, the agency recently hosted the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center’s (FLETC) Land Transportation Antiterrorism Training Program. More than 40 people participated in this program, a joint effort of TSA and FLETC, including SFMTA MRT officers and SFMTA transit operations, safety, security, and enforcement personnel. Other attendees included federal air marshals and representatives from the SFPD Homeland Security Unit, as well as members of the San Francisco fire and sheriff’s departments.
SFPD Officer Chris Hayes, a member of the Muni Response Team K-9 unit, patrols the Van Ness Station subway platform with his canine partner, Casar.
BY JOHN WALSH, Chief Research and Strategy Officer, Clever Devices Inc.
Safety and security issues always have been important to public transportation operators, but a more focused and strategic approach is taking a far greater role than in the past concerning how we operate these networks. Many transit professionals did not understand that their systems were a target for terrorism, despite the attacks on public transit worldwide well before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The post-9/11 world has changed our level of concern, and the transit industry has developed and implemented many proactive security measures and strategies, but the question remains: has public transportation received enough attention and resources to mitigate risk and reduce its vulnerability as a “soft target” for terrorism?
The threat of a terrorist attack is not a question of “if,” but of “when.” When 9/11 happened, we as a nation emerged, stunned, from the cocooned comfort of our thinking to the stark reality of a very real terrorist attack. That day’s events forever changed the definition of security and safety for all.
We have hardened our facilities; developed and implemented well-conceived audit and incident procedures, practices for security measures, increased policing, and security presence throughout the public transportation infrastructure; trained our employees; and raised the awareness of our customers and the general population. All of these measures have reduced the vulnerability of transit systems to acts of terrorism. But is it enough? What else can transit agencies do without defeating their purpose—to transport people safely and efficiently?
Over the past nine years, much of the industry and adjunct regulators, suppliers, researchers, other experts, and advisors have wrestled with the delicate balance of system security vs. reasonable access and usability of transit. The problem is how to increase security on public buses and light and heavy rail systems while keeping them usable and practical as transport options.
Let’s also remember that cyber threats can be just as damaging as physical ones. With multitasking technologies deployed on rail and bus systems, including the ability to discover unusual objects, technology can be very effective in identifying and subsequently deterring possible threats. Couple this technology with a strong campaign, such as New York’s “If you see something, say something,” and we drastically decrease threats. We need to create and continue collaborative campaigns such as these; they cannot and should not be isolated campaigns that serve as standalones.
We can implement some measures at reasonable cost and transparency to our customers: for example, leveraging currently deployed technologies and integrating emerging commercial security technologies that further reduce our vulnerability to attack.
Many public transit agencies have deployed an array of communication technologies, such as computer-aided dispatch/automatic vehicle location technology and stationary and mobile closed-circuit television. Beyond that, many standard vehicle systems can multitask to additional safety and security functionalities. Biological, explosive, chemical, and the like sensor technologies are mature, and with some modification for mobile environments, could we not integrate them as they become available, reliable, and affordable?
Object recognition, pattern detection, geofencing, and system controls software exist and can integrate with existing and deploying transport technology solutions.
While funding remains an issue, we still have to plan to effectively mitigate risk. A full risk assessment will pinpoint risks so we may then allocate the available dollars to secure those risks.
We are only at the beginning of using technology applications that will assist in improving the level of safety and security in our public transportation systems. We need to increase our usage of technology as a solution so we are prepared to prevent future events, diminish consequences, and have an immediate and available solution for rapid deployment in the event of an emergency. Think of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.
In addition, our transit infrastructure is aging and the demand for service continues to rise. Americans took a record 10.3 billion trips on public transportation in 2008, surpassing increases in any other mode of transportation—yet budgets and people have been cut. At the very least, don’t we need to adopt a “better safe than sorry” attitude when it comes to justifying investment?
Preventive maintenance is an eligible capital project expense for transit agencies in both large and small urbanized areas. Nearly half of the nation’s urban bus maintenance facilities are more than 21 years old, and nearly one-third of urban bus maintenance facilities are in marginal or poor condition.
Currently available technology has capabilities that will amaze you. Data that in the past were too massive to be collected now can be, as can data once thought too dense to calibrate into reports.
Making transportation smarter also makes it safer, so we need to take these measures to truly ensure safety. Together we can establish a true road map to excellence for public transit, because upping our game in safety and security is an investment in all our futures.
While some of this may be a stretch, these technology measures and security capabilities are closer than we think. Aren’t they worth consideration and evaluation in our strategies for technology deployment and implementation?
The answering is an emphatic “yes.” At the very least, we should be considering and thinking about every alternative. Aren’t people worth it?
Minneapolis firefighters respond June 23 to a simulated derailment on Metro Transit’s Northstar commuter rail line near the Target Field Station. The drill, required by the Federal Railroad Administration, tested emergency notification procedures and the ability of responders to establish and maintain effective communications at the scene. First responders evacuated passenger/actors during the drill. BNSF Railway and others joined Metro Transit and the Minneapolis Fire Department in the event.
This issue of Passenger Transport includes a sampling of viewpoints from some of our advertisers on the importance of safety and security to the public transportation industry.
Editor's Note: Today's commentary page offers a recent posting from the securityinfowatch.com web site focusing on safety and security in public transportation. (The site concentrates on public safety issues and municipal security.) Also, read about how NIST works with DHS to create blast-resistance standards.
This column originally appeared on SecurityInfoWatch.com and is ©2010 SecurityInfoWatch.com.
The security week that was: 06/11/10
BY GEOFF KOHL, Editor-in-Chief, SecurityInfoWatch.com
The Risk of Abandoned Bags
There is a new report out from the FBI warning law enforcement agencies about a new terrorist approach. According to the report, terrorists will often leave suspicious bags and packages in public locations, but the packages and bags are actually harmless, filled with innocuous materials.
The FBI report had the following to say: “The stated goal of the campaign was to exploit desensitization of first responders caused by response fatigue to suspicious, but harmless items. The poster suggested packing bags with innocuous items and placing them in public areas has the capability to occupy response assets and disrupt public infrastructure and transportation.”
So, what should first responders do? Should they be ignoring bags unless there is real reason to believe the bag or package is a threat? Or should they respond to every suspicious, unattended bag or package as if it is a real bomb?
It’s a tough question. On the one hand, if Islamic terrorists do actively leave lots of suspicious, unattended bags in train stations, in popular shopping areas, on buses, etc., this clearly could tax first responder resources heavily. And that means two things: 1) it means a great expense, since rolling out a bomb squad takes time and costs money, and 2) as the article and report indicates, it could desensitize our responders into potentially ignoring real bombs.
Long before this FBI report surfaced, I asked former Maryland Transit Administration Chief of Police Douglas Deleaver the same question. I asked him whether he would respond to every abandoned bag as if it were a bomb. He emphatically said, “Yes.” Doug recognized that this kind of tactic can have two purposes for the terrorists. The first is desensitization. The second, he said, is that potential terrorists might use this tactic to study how first responders actually respond. The danger in not responding is that terrorists would be assured that dropping a real bomb in a crowded area is unlikely to obtain a response. If they knew they wouldn’t receive a law enforcement response, the terrorists would be emboldened to use abandoned bags as real bombs. Doug’s point was that law enforcement personnel, especially those in common “soft targets” like buses, train stations, and crowded areas, have to ignore the costs, be vigilant against desensitization and respond to every potential incident as if it were real.
Chief Deleaver spoke on this topic and other aspects of mass transit security in a now-archived webinar titled “Securing Public Transportation Systems.” I encourage you to view the archived program, which also featured presentations from Mass Transit Magazine’s Editor Fred Jandt, ADT (integrating security for public transit systems) and Hirsch Electronics (access control for public transit facilities).
A technology response is also appropriate here if the FBI is right that Islamic terrorists are going to use harmless bags to burden our responders. Two recent improvements in video surveillance systems have been 1) faster access to video surveillance data and 2) automated identification of events.
On the automatic identification side, there are scores of companies in the video analytics field that have workable solutions for “object left behind” incidents. These analytics companies have been showing their wares at the tradeshows for years and the systems are reportedly improving in their efficiency. Adoption of this technology has been slow (cost, false positives, and time required for a high-quality installation have been the initial factors that have slowed adoption), but if we see a strong influx of suspicious bags and packages, these analytics technologies could really explode.
Beyond analytics, newer video management systems and plug-ins like the BriefCam video synopsis system, means video surveillance users can access archived video faster than ever. Centralized VMS systems means security officers and police officers don’t have to run all around the buildings to access DVR monitors and VCRs, but can quickly scan through an entire facility’s video data in one location. Responders who find a potential package bomb in a train station can theoretically find the video within minutes and use the video to attempt to ascertain whether they were dealing with a forgetful passenger or a would-be terrorist. Finally, the overall increase in user of cameras in soft-target environments means better follow-up, so that police can track down those persons using would-be package bombs to tax our law enforcement response abilities.
In any case, the picture this FBI report paints is not a pretty one. There is no easy answer or way to stop such attempts (unless we make forgetfulness a crime), and the man-hours to respond to an increase in would-be bombs is not going to be cheap. But as Chief Deleaver noted, it’s something we have to do if we are going to keep our nation secure.
This item originally appeared on the web site of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Read more here.
NIST Works with DHS to Create Blast-Resistance Standards
With summer travel season hard upon us, specialists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have helped create two new standards designed to increase safety as we rush from gate to gate in crowded mass transit centers. Their efforts will help to fortify against potential bomb threats in the nation’s transportation centers.
Whether you travel by plane, train or bus, you’re bound to pass a familiar container that makes for an attractive spot to stash a bomb: a trash can. Not only does a trash receptacle present an easy place for a terrorist to hide an explosive device before making a quiet getaway, but the metal from a bin can rupture into shrapnel that flies outward in all directions, increasing the risk to passersby.
While industry has been producing blast-resistant trash receptacles for years, there were no widely-accepted specifications for judging a manufacturer’s particular claims of product safety. The Science and Technology Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and several manufacturers began working with NIST in 2007 to address the lack of standards for blast resistance among trash receptacles.
The two standards will allow managers of transit centers—and other venues as well—to know exactly how a given receptacle model has been tested against blasts and precisely what a passing grade means in terms of resistance. A trash receptacle has met the standard if it is capable of directing a blast upward, rather than outward, at a given level of force.
Jerome C. Premo, Thomas R. Waldron
NEW YORK, NY—AECOM announced that Executive Vice President Jerome C. Premo has been named global director, transit/rail. Since joining AECOM in 1989, Premo has overseen the growth of the firm’s U.S. transit market practice. His previous jobs include executive director of New Jersey Transit Corporation, chief executive of the former Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, and associate administrator of the Federal Transit Administration. APTA honored him in 2008 as Business Person of the Year.
Succeeding Premo as North America director, transit/rail, is Senior Vice President Thomas R. Waldron, who joined AECOM in 2003. Waldron has more than 32 years of public and private sector experience including serving as the first general manager of Virginia Railway Express.
ORLANDO, FL—The Certification Board of the American Society for Quality (ASQ) recognized Erik Gaarder, a project manager in PBS&J’s transportation group, as an ASQ-Certified Six Sigma Black Belt.
The certification indicates that an individual has attained a proficiency in and a comprehension of Six Sigma principles and practices, including supporting systems and tools in a variety of business situations.
NEW YORK, NY—Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) has named William McVey a senior industrial engineer in its New York office.
McVey has more than 35 years of industrial engineering experience, with specialized expertise in railroad facilities. Prior to joining PB, he was assistant chief mechanical officer in the maintenance of equipment and transportation departments of MTA Long Island Rail Road.
HOUSTON, TX—Christa Loven has joined Computec/Emtrac as office-training facility manager for the Houston office, which opened May 1.
The new facility hosts private contractors, consultants and public transportation agency personnel in showcasing Emtrac transit and rail projects across North America.
WASHINGTON, DC—ARCADIS has hired Dallas Richards, P.E., as national rail principal to further develop its national freight and commuter rail programs and services through the Infrastructure Division.
Richards comes to ARCADIS from HDR, where he was railroad business class leader. He has served clients including Virginia Railway Express and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation during his nearly 15-year career.