In a letter dated August 28, 2012, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called on the governors of 26 states, Puerto Rico, and the mayor of the District of Columbia, all home to significant rail transit systems, to prepare to meet new federal regulations that the U.S. Department of Transportation plans on proposing in the near future.
The proposed federal regulations would require them to strengthen and increase their oversight of public transit safety and are part of Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), a new two-year transportation authorization bill signed by President Obama in July, 2012.
“Under MAP-21, we’re ushering in a new era for transit safety, and we are committed to working with our state leaders to strengthen and help fund robust state safety oversight agencies to carry out this vitally important mission,” said Secretary LaHood. “Public transit remains one of the safest ways to travel in the U.S., and we intend to keep it that way.”
MAP-21 grants FTA the authority to establish and enforce a new comprehensive framework to oversee the safety of public transportation throughout the U.S. as it pertains to heavy rail, light rail, buses, ferries, and streetcars.
“We are closing a loophole in how transit safety oversight is regulated and enforced that is long overdue,” said Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Administrator Peter Rogoff. “For the first time FTA will be able to establish basic safety standards to better ensure the safety of tens of millions of passengers that ride public transportation each day.”
In December 2009, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood transmitted legislation to Congress on behalf of the Obama Administration that would for the first time permit the FTA to implement and enforce basic safety standards for rail transit following the deadly June 2009 Red Line accident in Washington, DC and other accidents throughout the country. This proposed legislation was a key instrument in shaping the federal safety role of public transportation in MAP-21.
MAP-21 requires, among other things, that FTA update the existing State Safety Oversight (SSO) program to ensure that rail transit systems are meeting common-sense safety requirements. The law also requires that FTA adopt important new safety provisions for bus-only operators. FTA will implement the new law in consultation with the transit community and the U.S. Department of Transportation Transit Rail Advisory Committee for Safety, which has been working since September of 2010 to help guide this effort.
MAP-21 provides grant money that FTA will direct to the states to help them comply with new requirements. Up to 80 percent of the funds are Federal; a 20 percent non-Federal match is also required. The law also adopts measures initially proposed by the Administration to ensure that SSO agencies are truly independent and not funded in ways that present regulators with a conflict of interest, such as being funded by the transit agencies they are charged with overseeing.