Mass transit can be a real lifesaver

All aboard

Courtesy morguefile


By Marilyn Skolnickk

From 1991 to 2001, 42% of all terrorist attacks worldwide targeted public rail systems or buses.

Does this mean that public transit should be avoided?

On the contrary, transit terrorism would cause greater total casualties and harm to society if individual travelers respond to these attacks by shifting from public transit to less safe modes of transportation, or if decision-makers respond by reducing support for public transit.

Transit accidents and terrorist incidents garner more attention than automobile fatalities because more people are killed or injured at one time on heavily used public transit, while automobile crashes that kill or injurer fewer people at a time are so common that they received little or no media coverage.

Despite highly publicized transit disasters such as the 2005 bombing of a bus and three subway trains in London that killed 50 passengers:

  • Transit takers have only 1/10th of the traffic fatality rate per mile as automobile occupants;
  • Per capita traffic fatalities decline with increased transit ridership; and
  • Transit -oriented urban areas have lower, per capita traffic fatality rates than automobile-oriented cities.

Since 9/11, most of the funding for Homeland Security has gone for aviation security. Given the pattern of terrorist attacks in the last decade, it is clear that our transit systems are also vulnerable. Because of this, Sierrans need to ask that the Federal Office of Homeland Security provide adequate security for all modes of public transportation. 

Marilyn Skolnick serves as co-chair of the Chapter's transportation and land use committe.

Published November 2005