Transit Briefs: MBTA, LA Metro, NYMTAWritten by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) announces Safety First program for South Coast Rail (SCR). Also, LA Metro approves hiring of Transit Security Officers, law enforcement contract negotiations and policies to improve safety for rail and bus riders; and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) will receive $2 million in federal funds to expand a program that helps visually impaired riders, as well as commuters with limited English proficiency, navigate public transit.
As SCR Phase 1 nears the operation of test trains and the beginning of passenger service between Boston and Southeastern Massachusetts, the MBTA is kicking off a Safety First education program for SCR communities in Middleborough, East Taunton, Freetown, Fall River and New Bedford.
According to the MBTA, the Safety First program, whose goal is to “bring an understanding of safety rules to every Southeastern Massachusetts city and town,” shares rail safety rules and basics through brochures, videos and presentations. The MBTA has prepared four safety videos for students of serval ages and the public.
Local officials, stakeholders, and other community groups, such as schools, libraries and clubs can request more information or a presentation by emailing [email protected] with “Safety First” in the subject line.
According to the agency, MBTA will begin running test trains along SCR Phase 1 track areas later this year; in certain areas, train speeds will have the potential to reach speeds up to 80 mph. Since 1959, track areas in the southeastern region of Massachusetts area only saw freight trains a few times a day at operating speeds of up to 25 mph or less.
As a component of the Safety First outreach, which is made possible in part through a grant from Operation Lifesaver, Inc. (OLI), area residents, MBTA says, “will be reminded that rail rights-of-way are private property and entering or crossing a right-of-way is illegal, creates a significant safety risk, and is expressly prohibited except for when accessing stations or at specifically designated crossings. While recreational activities, such as dog walking, ATV and dirt bike riding, and running may have occurred along railroad rights-of-way, it’s important to note that these actions pose major safety hazards to the individuals engaging in those activities, work crews along the rights-of-way, train crews, and passengers onboard Commuter Rail trains once service starts.”
In December 2022, OLI awarded more than $140,000 in grant funds to eight transit agencies in six states for rail transit safety public awareness and education projects and campaigns. The approved grants were awarded through a competitive process, based upon criteria such as key safety messages, target audiences, and evaluation methods. The MBTA received funding to implement a public education program to include community outreach and multilingual safety materials in advance of the resumption of SCR passenger service in Southeastern Massachusetts at the end of 2023. Funding for the OLI grants comes from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).
Two weeks after the official launch of nearly 300 unarmed Metro Ambassadors aboard trains and buses, the Metro Board of Directors on March 23 approved the hiring of 48 new Transit Security Officers to keep bus operators and riders safe.
According to Metro, the Board also authorized the agency to “re-negotiate and potentially extend” its contracts with its law enforcement partners for up to three years to “ensure a more visual presence on the system while staff evaluates the feasibility of creating its own in-house public safety department.”
The Board’s actions, Metro says, advance the implementation of the agency’s public safety plan, which calls for a layered, human-centered approach that makes the system “be–and feel–more safe.” In addition to the new Metro personnel, the agency says it is working with the city and the county to add homeless outreach, drug addiction and crisis intervention teams, and is improving its use of security cameras and lighting and more frequent cleaning of stations and vehicles.
The Board also approved new Bias-Free Policing and Public Analytics policies and a revised Customer Code of Conduct to “ensure consistency with the public safety mission and values” that were adopted by the board in 2021. The mission and values statements specify that “all transit riders are entitled to a safe, dignified and human experience on Metro.”
“The Metro System is certainly not immune from the broader societal challenges we see throughout our county, but we are steadfast in our commitment to taking all steps necessary to promote a safe and pleasant transit experience for every one of our riders,” said Glendale City Council Member and Metro Board Chair Ara J. Najarian. “Safety is our No. 1 priority. Our Board’s actions today are a testament to the bold and strategic actions we are now taking to deliver a safe transit system.”
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced March 28 that the MTA will receive $2 million in funding to expand a pilot program that helps blind and low-vision riders, as well as commuters with limited English proficiency better navigate the New York City subway and bus system.
The funding, which was awarded through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) grant program, established by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to “help public sector agencies implement advanced smart community technologies in order to improve transportation efficiency and safety,” will go toward adding more bus stops and subway stations capable of using the NaviLens and NaviLens Go phone apps.
These apps, which can be downloaded on Android or iOS devices, use an algorithm to translate QR-style “NaviLens codes” into audio or text and allow customers to determine key information, including real-time arrival data, the accurate location and distance to the nearest stop, crowding levels, and boarding areas.
When the apps detect a “NaviLens code,” they provide commuters with context-specific information, in text or audio format, on nearby amenities, such as station booth location, real-time transit information, elevator outages, and navigation directions to specific points on the platform. So far, the program has been tested at the Jay Street-MetroTech Station in Downtown Brooklyn and along the M23 SBS Manhattan bus route.
While NaviLens helps visually impaired commuters reads out signs and provides train arrivals in audio to help blind or low-vision users navigate the station, the NaviLens Go app provides sighted users visual in-station navigation, trip planning information, train arrivals and service status information in up to 34 different languages.
Senator Gillibrand announced last month that $5 million in funding had been secured for the City College of New York (CCNY) and New York University (NYU) to research how to improve the mobility of people and goods. Senator Gillibrand also recently introduced the Resilient Transit Act, which would provide billions in federal funding to help public transit agencies take proactive steps to protect subways and other transit systems from flooding, storm surges, extreme heat, and other climate impacts.
“Expanding accessibility to our transportation systems, whether it’s to move goods from one end of the city to another or to get commuters to work and school, is vital for New Yorkers,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “While the MTA train and bus system is a lifeline for millions throughout the five boroughs, navigating such an expansive public transportation network remains challenging for many New Yorkers. Expanding this project will allow for customers with visual disabilities New Yorkers as well as commuters with limited English proficiency to move around the city more smoothly, efficiently and safely. I am proud to have helped pass the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which is providing this critical funding, and I will continue working to make New York’s infrastructure safe and accessible.”
A video demonstration on how NaviLens works is available below.