Strengthening Safety Management Legislation for US Transit Agencies

By Kevin Reilly & Lauren Bradford | April 27, 2022

So, what is SMS?

As defined by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in 49 CFR 673, SMS is a formal, top-down, organization-wide approach to managing safety risk and assuring the effectiveness of a transit agency’s safety risk mitigation. SMS includes systematic procedures, practices, and policies for managing risks and hazards. This includes connecting the dots from a safety policy to the organization’s goals, to risk management and assurance activities; and having safety communication and promotion embedded throughout the entire organization.

That said, there is more to SMS than policies and procedures. SMS links all safety processes from start to finish, including safety management policy, safety risk management, safety promotion, and safety assurance. Hatch has extensive knowledge of each of these components, having supported SMS implementation for numerous transit agencies, both large and small.

The most recent legislative authorization of the FTA programs occurred in 2021 when Congress passed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The law authorizes funds for several initiatives, including transit programs for the fiscal year (FY) 2022 through FY 2026.

Although formal FTA rulemaking has yet to take place, key aspects pertaining to Public Transportation Agency Safety Plans in the revised Federal Transit Law, as proposed, must include:

  • Agency safety plans consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health authority guidelines to minimize exposure to infectious diseases.
  • Development of a safety plan in cooperation with frontline employee representatives (i.e., a Safety Committee) as defined below:
    • The establishment of a Safety Committee by July 31, 2022, that is composed of an equal number of frontline and management employees responsible for identifying, recommending, and analyzing the effectiveness of risk-based mitigations or strategies to reduce consequences identified in the agencies’ safety risk assessment.
    • The Safety Committee will review and approve the Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan (PTASP), and any modifications, prior to the approval of the agencies’ Board of Directors.
  • Development of a risk-reduction program for transit operations that improves safety (e.g., collision avoidance systems) with the goal of reducing the number and rates of accidents, injuries, and assaults on transit workers based on data submitted to the National Transit Database (NTD). This includes a reduction of vehicular and pedestrian accidents involving buses, and measures to reduce visibility impairments for bus operators and the mitigation of assaults on transit workers.
  • The setting of risk reduction performance targets using a three-year rolling average of the data submitted to the NTD. The required performance measures will be established in the next revision to the National Transportation Safety Plan.

The allocation of not less than 0.75 percent of Section 5307 funds (supporting transit in urban areas) to safety-related projects. If the performance targets are not met, funding must be reallocated to meet the performance targets, which include modifications to rolling stock.

These new FTA requirements present numerous challenges to transportation agencies.

Currently, we are supporting a major multimodal agency in its effort to understand and implement the news legislation. The agency already required de-escalation training for its bus operators and police officers. Under the new mandates, thousands of additional employees will need similar training. Should they undergo the same in-person, day-long training as bus operators? Should the transit agency use generic online de-escalation training for expediency? And how will the training tie in with their safety culture? These are just a few examples of questions we can help our clients answer as they interpret the new federal requirements.

In addition, several significant changes were made to the law affecting State Safety Oversight (SSO), which grants agencies additional responsibilities and authorities, including:

  • The authority to collect and analyze data and conduct risk-based inspections of rail fixed guideway transportation systems.
  • The establishment of policies and procedures regarding the ability to conduct inspections, including access for inspections that occur without advance notice.
    • One year after the enactment of the Act, the Secretary of Transportation will issue a special directive to SSOs on the development and implementation of risk-based inspections.
    • Two years after the directive is issued, the SSOs will implement the requirements of the PTASP inspection requirements.
  • The US Secretary of Transportation’s development of a process and methodology that will be used to monitor the effectiveness of the enforcement authorities and practices of SSOs.

The FTA has issued fact sheets outlining the changes made in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). But it has yet to provide substantial guidance to the industry on how to implement those changes. All transit agencies’ SMS should be scalable and flexible to fit their organization’s size and complexity. That said, it should be noted that the forthcoming changes are somewhat rigid and firm. For example, the requirement that each transportation provider formally designate a Safety Committee as the approver of the agency’s PTASP might easily work at a small authority, but will require careful examination and consideration for all facets at larger agencies.

These, and other changes, can be challenging and time consuming to implement. It’s one thing to have a safety management system; it’s something completely different to actually do safety management.

Hatch does it and does it right—by using a human factors approach that goes far beyond cosmetic regulatory compliance and provides clients with long-lasting, sustainable solutions.