How Much Will New Federal Safety Mandates Cost Transit Agencies?

This transportation bill, it’s just full of not-so-fun surprises for city dwellers.

Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski led a push to increase safety regulations for subways. Photo: Elections Meter

While the bill more or less maintained overall funding for transit agencies, Ben Kabak at Network blog Second Avenue Sagas is concerned about the impact of new safety mandates for subway systems, which he says are unnecessary:

As I’ve mentioned before, a few Washington politicians led by Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski have decided that DC’s problems are everyone’s. When a few high-profile Metro crashes, caused generally by human incompetence and a poorly-designed system, made headlines, Mikulski sprung into action, and for three years, she’s been trying to foist federal safety standards onto subway systems that just do not need them.

Finally — and unfortunately — she succeeded this year, and the new transportation bill contains the National Public Transportation Safety Program. As with many federal mandates, these underfunded requirements will put some burden on local transit agencies. Once President Obama signs the Transportation Bill, the Secretary of Transportation will promulgate interim safety standards and a certification process. State agencies that want federal dollars will have to comply with these regulations or else forfeit the federal investments.

It’s telling that all representatives in praise of these standards cite Washington’s accident record. In New York, we’re far less concerned with such safety issues but we’re going to have to pay anyway. Sometimes, no policy might be better than a bad one.

The bill does include $60 million in funding for agencies to spend bringing themselves into compliance. But Kabak is not confident that’s enough to make these already cash-strapped agencies whole, calling the funding “laughable.”

With these safety regs, Mikulski was responding to the nine deaths in the 2009 DC Metro crash. Now try to imagine what would happen if Congress responded proportionally to America’s 34,000 annual traffic deaths. They probably wouldn’t be slashing funds for Safe Routes to School.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Riding in Riverside shares, from personal experience, why auto dependence is such a burden if you don’t make much money. The Overhead Wire, inspired by a recent case in Cincinnati, outlines some of the history of politicians attacking specific rail projects in their own regions. And UrbanIndy tries to understand what the new federal transportation bill means for Indianapolis.