System “safety”

I have a number of safety related concerns to discuss today.

The seven hundred and fifty (750) volt “third rails” in subway stations have safety warnings which are either poorly marked or grime obscured. A careful study of the third rails might allow the searcher to find, as I did, a fairly clean place with a warning. Although, the one I found was in Spanish.

The system lacks clear subway evacuation procedures which recognize the “third rail” danger. Such Procedures should call for riders to hug the LEFT side of the tunnel when evacuating from the front of a train and traveling FORWARD to the next station and the RIGHT side of the tunnel when evacuating from the rear of a train and traveling BACK to the last station. Such procedures are necessary to position evacuees as far as possible from the “third rails”. Subway tunnels are marked with the distances, in yards, to both stations, i.e., forward and back. Regular subway riders would be advised to carry a small flashlight in order to be prepared, as I can imagine no darker place than a blacked-out subway tunnel. I would also that suggest that riders learn that right is derecha and left is izquierda in Spanish.

Lately, it seems that subway operators make prescribed announcements, along the lines of: “riders should read the emergency instructions”. The only thing that I could find that could be described as emergency instructions was a brief explanation of how to open a subway car door. Armed with only this information, it would be possible for someone to open the door, jump out of the car directly onto the third rail!

The bus drivers too seem to want to fight to preserve their freedom
to ignore proposed work rules while simultaneously putting their
passengers AND the general public at risk. The Los Angeles Times raises an issue1 which I identified and communicated to the LACMTA earlier this year. Of course, I was “stone-walled” even though I detailed my concerns in writing, on two more occasions. In my last attempt, I raised a number of other of issues in an eighteen page letter directly to Mr. Roger Snoble, the head of agency. Snoble,who is incidentally, with a salary approaching $300,000 annually including benefits and perquisites, the best paid transportation executive in his category in the United States. Snoble did not bother with a personal reply, instead, he delegated -always the mark of a successful executive- someone several levels below him to send me an extremely short acknowledgment of my letter. In my letter, I was critical of “Metro thinking” in that they do not view our transportation system as a “system”, but rather as bus lines and rail lines. Points illustrative of “Metro thinking” and the true lack of understanding of the system by LAMTA executives and staff are brought out in Times piece. A page B3 quote about the bus drivers: “... and that the majority do now [ buckle up] as a result of a training campaign.” My own informal study (10 distinct buses) performed on the day which the article appeared, found that only 30% of the drivers were buckled up. If, indeed, the majority of drivers did use their seat belts after training, then there has been slippage since the the original training campaign. Currently, I believe that only a small fraction of the drivers actually use seat belts.

How little the drivers seem to understand the concept of safety is embodied in Kamal Sohal's quote in the piece:“A lap belt will hurt more in an accident.” Hoang Pham, in rationalizing his non use of the seat belts, viz., restriction of his movement, further indicts the LACMTA for its failure to consider the driver's environment and ergonomic factors. The same applies to the lack of seat belt adjustments mentioned by a “Santa-like driver”, '“First it's too small. Now, too big.”'.

Every driver has a “complaint card” for his assigned bus, if something needs fixing he need only to “write it up”. The Industrial Engineering Division of the LACMTA - I actually doubt that they have one- should address these environmental/ ergonomic issues. If the putative Industrial Engineering Division needed to know, on average, how many seat belt extenders they require, a simple survey of an airline will tell them the ratio – number of seatbelt extenders carried:the number of seats on a given aircraft. Of course another option would be to offer Santa-like drivers counseling on weight loss and health.

The reason we all should care about a LACMTA driver's seat belt habits is simple. If he is thrown out of his seat in an accident, then the bus is free to travel, uncontrolled, where it will with the equal possibility of death or injury to passengers and non-passengers alike.

This logically leads to the discussion of on board security. Throughout the system, posters, in English and Spanish are seen, which invite the viewer to speculate as to which one of the people pictured is the undercover officer. These posters, like the “Armed Response” signs used by householders without contracting with a security agency, are toothless threats. I have seen every one of the acts (eating, drinking and loud radios and even louder cell phone conversations) which, other than the cell phone usage, supposedly deserve a $250 fine and forty hours of community service, committed numerous times without one of the undercover officer responding. I can only assume that either these officers are superbly trained to sit impassively and watch these minor infractions while being ready to spring into action when something serious occurs. OR, this is really another ploy developed by Metro's Marketing Department.

The so-called METRO security officers if they are seen at all, are often grouped together, chatting. The Los Angeles Times published photos2 which document this fact. Brian Vander Brug's picture, which straddles the fold, tells a story. In it we see five, count 'em, five, sheriff's deputies and one LACMTA fare inspector, clumped together, chatting, just as I have often seen them on trains and platforms. I suggest that this is not only inefficient but also violates "Moe's Maxim", i.e., -“Spread out!”. Further, these “security officers” only EXTREMELY infrequently check for fare payment - perhaps less than 20% of the times when I have seen them on board trains or grouped together at rail or subway stations. Given these "activities" on the part of the Sheriff's deputies and LACMTA "fare inspectors" causes one to wonder why some sort of automation was not applied to fare validation. I can only recall one other system that allowed unrestricted entry, i.e., the San Jose system. World class transportation systems, which include the Bay Area's BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and the JRE (Japan Rail East) in Tokyo have automated entry systems. Such systems have a higher front end cost and of course, a continuing maintenance cost. However systems like the one here in Los Angeles have a high month to month cost. It can be argued that the deputies and fare inspectors provide an element of security but They are not always president and as noted earlier they don't always check for fare payment. I can also make the case as they -this seems to be more the case for the fare inspectors- chat among themselves or on their cell phones, they are less than vigilant.

1Lui, Catlin. “L. A. Bus Drivers Resist Seat Belts". Los Angeles Times 13 Dec. 2004: B1
2Vander Brug, Brian. “Subway station security - photo". Los Angeles Times 23 Jul. 2005: B1

(Next week: The Money Wasting LACMTA)

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