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New federal guidelines address transit worker, passenger safety

 Passengers board a DART light rail train at a station in downtown Dallas.
Pablo Arauz Peña
Passengers board a DART light rail train at a station in downtown Dallas.

The Federal Transit Administration on Tuesday announced new guidelines addressing safety for transit workers and passengers on trains and buses.

The new rules address longstanding issues such as assaults on transit workers, collisions and exposure to infectious diseases for agencies like Dallas Area Rapid Transit and Trinity Metro.

The updated National Public Transportation Safety Plan calls on transit agencies to set safety goals based on a new set of criteria "in cooperation with frontline employee representatives."

The criteria include metrics for collisions, injuries, assaults and fatalities. It also maintains that "assaults" include non-violent and verbal assaults that are recorded in the National Transit Database.

DART spokesperson Jeamy Molina told KERA in an email that the agency has been aware of the updated guidelines since they were proposed last year.

"In anticipation of the new rules DART implemented the new requirements to ensure we are capturing FTA's efforts to make Transit safer," Molina wrote.

Assaults on transit workers have been a nationwide concern that was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Lindiwe Rennert, a researcher at the Urban Institute.

"Almost all transit agencies saw major cuts in service," Rennert said in a previous interview with KERA.

The new rules expand de-escalation training for workers that the FTA hopes will mitigate assaults.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1338, which represents DART workers, has been in talks with the agency over safety concerns, among other issues, for months. Last November, a DART bus driver was shot and injured on the job. Another driver told KERA she was held at gunpoint on the job.

The new guidelines say that agencies must form a safety committee with employee representation to address concerns, something that unions advocated for in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in 2021.

"That is something really big something that unions are very proud of," said Kenneth Day, who represents ATU at the national level.

The guidelines also state an agency's accountable executive may not hold a tie-breaking vote in settling committee disputes.

"This committee gives frontline employees greater participation in guiding our strategies to reduce the number of worker assaults, pedestrian accidents, and improving safety performance," Molina said.

DART has reported at least six assaults on transit workers since 2020.

"Folks from different sectors of this problem are making demands and are implementing things in an attempt to bring counts down," Rennert at the Urban Institute said.

Molina said DART is anticipating further guidance from TxDOT, which serves as the State Safety Oversight for FTA, in October.

Pablo Arauz Peña is KERA’s growth and infrastructure reporter. Got a tip? Email Pablo at parauzpena@kera.org. You can follow him on X @pabloaarauz.

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Copyright 2024 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Pablo Arauz Peña