Mass Transit Grants:

UMTA Needs to Increase Safety Focus at Local Transit Authority

RCED-90-41: Published: Dec 1, 1989. Publicly Released: Jan 4, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Urban Mass Transportation Administration's (UMTA) oversight of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), focusing on: (1) trends in SEPTA safety conditions; (2) UMTA monitoring of SEPTA transit system safety; and (3) factors UMTA considered in approving grant assistance to SEPTA.

GAO found that: (1) UMTA primarily provided mass transportation assistance through its Section 3 Discretionary Grant and Section 9 Formula Grant programs, with SEPTA receiving 27 section 3 grant obligations totalling $339 million, and 10 section 9 grant obligations totalling $398 million, between fiscal years 1984 and 1988; (2) SEPTA reported a total of 23,328 accidents, resulting in 19,491 injuries and 137 fatalities, between 1984 and 1988; (3) SEPTA safety data indicated safety improvements and fewer accidents in its commuter rail and rapid rail systems, but an increase in accident and injury rates for its motor bus, trolley bus, and street car operations; (4) although UMTA believed that section 22 of the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964 provided it with broad authority regarding transit safety, UMTA oversight did not adequately assess the SEPTA safety conditions, did not collect complete accident, injury, and fatality data, did not emphasize safety in its triennial review of SEPTA operations, and limited its section 22 safety investigation to one of three SEPTA rapid rail lines; (5) UMTA had little assurance that its grants were being used to improve safety conditions, since it did not consider safety in reviewing or approving the SEPTA annual program of projects; (6) SEPTA did not implement a formal project planning process that assessed the safety importance of proposed projects until 1989; and (7) UMTA could not explain why its grant funding decisions differed from SEPTA project priorities, since it did not document its selection criteria for grant awards.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: UMTA modified the section 15 safety information reporting requirements in April 1990. According to UMTA Region III staff, this information is used to identify trends in SEPTA safety conditions and, in conjunction with other safety concerns, evaluate the SEPTA program of projects and funding decisions.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, UMTA, to obtain more complete and accurate information on SEPTA accidents and injuries and their causes and use this information in: (1) evaluating SEPTA safety conditions during triennial reviews at SEPTA; (2) determining whether further safety investigation at SEPTA is warranted; (3) approving the SEPTA annual program of projects; and (4) making section 3 grant funding decisions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: UMTA conducted a triennial review at SEPTA in January 1990 and issued a letter of findings in March 1991. According to UMTA Region III staff, during the triennial review, UMTA looked at SEPTA actions to respond to all open recommendations related to safety. GAO noted that UMTA did not close out the triennial review because SEPTA had not developed an action plan to address NTSB recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, UMTA, to follow up on the safety problems identified by the section 22 investigation and by other sources during the next triennial review at SEPTA.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Transportation will not require UMTA to document its section 3 grant award decisions.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, UMTA, to maintain documentation of the section 3 grant awards process and provide an explanation to SEPTA when funding decisions differ from SEPTA priorities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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