Friday, August 31, 2012

LaHood Calls on states to strengthen transit safety oversight

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, 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 Federal Transportation Authority the authority to establish and enforce a new framework to oversee the safety of public transportation throughout the United States 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 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."

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.

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