“While no piece of legislation is perfect,” says Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, “By and large MAP-21 has the right policies for transit.”
In a time of short money, it’s especially important to prioritize what dollars there are around safety because, he stresses, you cannot let safety deteriorate because the funding is tight. “In fact,” he says, “I would question anyone who feels that they can guarantee they know precisely where their greatest safety vulnerabilities are.
“You can’t,” he states. “But you can certainly refine it. You can certainly identify potential risks.”
I ask the administrator about some of the concerns I’ve been hearing from people regarding safety requirements. “I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there about what might be required.” He continues, “We’re not looking to burden transit agencies with massive new responsibilities when we know they’re under their own financial stress.”
The whole idea, the safety system management approach, is to get away from the one-size-fits-all solution. Some of the requirements for MAP-21, Rogoff says, were not picked up from the administration’s bill, they were generated by Congress.
While transit is a very safe mode of travel, Rogoff says the challenge is to push forward common-sense approaches that allow us to raise our game. “But we also need to demonstrate that actually leads to safety; I’m really not interested in a massive paperwork exercise …”
He continues, “Some people will say that we’re just fine thank you very much, and then wake up and discover they’ve got issues … the idea is to help train people to be able to discover their safety vulnerabilities — even the ones they don’t see. That’s really the goal.”
In times of short money, he thinks this is even more necessary. It’s not about writing reports, but having a formulaic approach to evaluating information to know the greatest vulnerabilities.
“I think people are accustomed to such a voluminous bureaucratic process that the FTA is known for that they may not believe us,” Rogoff says of the safety management approach. “It will have to play itself out by performance.”
And, even with the FTA facing its own funding shortages, this will be the highest priority within the FTA Rogoff states. “We will have to prioritize it within whatever available funding we have … we’re not just going to throw up our hands and ignore the requirements of MAP-21 because we’ve been sequestered.
“It may be other MAP-21 priorities take longer for our need to move forward on safety.”
During the recent American Public Transportation Association’s Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., Rogoff spoke to attendees and said, “The law of the land prohibited the FTA from issuing even the most basic common-sense safety standards of any kind since 1964.
“The administration proposed that be reversed in 2009 and indeed, MAP-21 followed our guidance and we now have new safety authority that we will be rolling out in a very level-headed, non-beuarucractic way by adding value to the safety of your operations without adding a great deal of cost.”
Prepared for Disaster
Another important addition with MAP-21 is for emergency response. The new model looks to be more responsive to the needs of transit agencies than the FEMA model.
“It allows transit agencies to gain assistance to, after the disaster, actually build the transit system back to a state of good repair, rather than to whatever it was the day before the disaster,” Rogoff explains. “It also allows funding to prevent future disasters.”
The long-term vision is to have enough money in the bank to deal with disasters as they occur. The program can’t be built just around Sandy, but will be for hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes — all types of disasters.