Rail Bombing In India Again Shows Inherent Danger to "Open" Transit Systems
Just hours after deadly bombs ripped through one of India's busiest commuter rail lines, top BART officials urged the U.S. Senate to increase transit security funding in the 2007 fiscal year by at least $50 million when it votes on the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill later this week.
In a letter to California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, BART Board Vice President Lynette Sweet asks the senators to pass the legislation with at least $200 million annually for transit security funding. "Since 9/11, Congress has only provided $150 million annually to protect transit systems across the country," Vice President Sweet writes. " BART, which carries over 330,000 weekday riders in the Bay Area, has identified over $250 million of security priorities on our system alone, which gives some perspective to the federal commitment thus far."
As chairperson of BART's security committee, Vice President Sweet is intimately involved in security planning and operations for the District and has made several trips to Washington, D.C. to explain the need for more transit security funding.
SENATE VOTE SEEN AS KEY
The Senate vote on the Homeland Security Appropriations bill is seen as a key test of transit security funding. The Senate Committee on Appropriations recently sent a bill to the floor with only $150 million included for transit security while the House of Representatives in June passed a version of the bill which would increase transit security by $50 million for the coming year. BART is asking the Senate to at least match the House appropriations level.
TRANSIT SECURITY LAGS BEHIND
BART officials are not alone in their concern that funding for transit security has lagged behind other allocations. The American Public Transportation Association, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization, points out that since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the federal government has only allocated $386 million towards transit security. In contrast, the aviation industry has received more than $20 billion for aviation security during the same period.
"This funding disparity is especially troubling when one considers BART carries 330,000 riders every weekday, nearly twice as many as the number of people who travel through the Bay Area's three airports combined," said Vice President Sweet. In Fiscal Year 2006, the federal government spent just 12 cents per transit passenger on security while it spent $7.58 on each airline passenger.
TRANSIT SYSTEMS ARE TARGETS
Even before the attacks in India, BART was at an elevated security level because of the anniversary of the London subway bombings. It will remain at an elevated level until further notice.
The commuter bombings in India today come on the heels of the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the London subway and just days after the announcement a terrorist plan to attack the New York area transit systems was averted. Transit systems are attractive targets to terrorists and research points out this was true even before 9/11. A Brookings Institution report found 42% of all terrorist attacks worldwide from 1991 to 2001 targeted rail and bus systems.
BART has spent more than $21 million since 9/11 to enhance its security, adding bomb-sniffing dogs to its police force, hardening critical infrastructure, training each employee in identifying and responding to potential terrorist situations and conducing public awareness campaigns. The federal government has only reimbursed BART for $9 million.
CALIFORNIA VOTERS TO ALSO CONSIDER SECURITY SPENDING
The California state legislature recently passed the transportation infrastructure bond that will be Proposition 1B on the November general election ballot. If voters approve Prop 1B, it will include $1 billion for security capital expenditures and emergency response for transit operators in the state.
Vice President Sweet notes, "Our public transit systems are, by their very nature, attractive targets to terrorists. BART and other transit agencies have been working diligently to improve security but, like anything else, it takes money."