The Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) new safety authority marks a significant change in how FTA does business to keep transit safe. Building on legislation first proposed by the Administration in 2009, the FTA now has long-sought authority under the new surface transportation authorization, MAP-21, to establish common-sense safety performance criteria for all modes of public transportation.
The FTA is working diligently to put initial policies and procedures in place as we begin to implement this important expansion of our mission. Every transit provider or State Safety Oversight Agency (SSOA) should know, first and foremost, that FTA understands that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work for public transit. The safety risks for a large urban rail system in the Northeast are not the same as for a bus-only transit provider in the Midwest, so our approach to implementing safety oversight will reflect that understanding. (See our Federal Register Notice providing $21.9 million to SSOAs to improve oversight of transit safety.)
With that in mind, an important early step is our intention to adopt Safety Management Systems (SMS) as the basis for the initiatives FTA will undertake to improve the safety of public transportation. SMS is a collaborative approach that will help management and labor work together to build on the industry’s existing safety foundation to control risk better, detect and correct safety problems earlier, share and analyze safety data more effectively, and measure safety performance more accurately.
Although many public transportation agencies are familiar with SMS, others are not. A detailed set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) explaining this concept and its applications in depth is available on FTA’s website here, along with other related information.
I would emphasize the following characteristics of an SMS framework, which includes many activities that may already be part of your existing safety regime:
- SMS encourages managers and transit employees to work together to identify hazards and act in concert before system failures occur. Everyone is held accountable: managers for allocating the right resources and employees for making sure that those investments deliver positive safety results.
- SMS is about making the system safer for everyone. That includes passengers and transit system employees.
- SMS is scalable and flexible, based on the size of the transit agency and complexity of the services they deliver.
- SMS empowers transit operators to assess their own safety risks and prioritize the application of resources to those risks, which in turn supports a cost-effective allocation of safety resources.
- SMS supplements the system safety principles and practices already in place in the transit industry, integrating human factors and human performance management into existing engineering, training, and hazard management processes.
- SMS is an inclusive approach—involving shared knowledge among public transportation agencies, State agencies, and the FTA.
- Done right, SMS can help transit agencies improve their bottom line. The hazards that put our people at risk are the same hazards that disrupt our operations. Strong safety management is simply good business.
SMS has worked well around the world at both large and small agencies alike, and has also been successful throughout other transportation industries facing challenges similar to our own, including aviation, maritime, and freight railroads. SMS is now the safety policy of the U.S. Department of Transportation, and it is endorsed by the Transit Rail Advisory Committee on Safety (TRACS) and major public transportation industry associations.
Over the next few months, in partnership with the States, oversight agencies, and public transportation stakeholders, FTA will work to support, coordinate, and carry out SMS concepts and principles in the forthcoming National Public Transportation Safety Plan, the Public Transportation Safety Certification Training Program, the Public Transportation Agency Safety Plans, and the State Safety Oversight Program under MAP-21.
I look forward to working with you on this important safety initiative, and I urge you to review the in-depth FAQs posted online and participate actively in FTA’s upcoming rulemaking activities. The passengers, employees, and general public who come into contact with our Nation's public transportation systems depend on all of us—the States, oversight agencies, public transportation operators, and the FTA—to do everything possible to ensure their continued safety.