USDOT announces new research funding to improve public transportation

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The US government has the long-term aim of reducing pressure on the country’s road network by encouraging a wider use of public transportation. However, people will be reluctant to give up their cars if they feel that transit systems are inherently unsafe.

The US Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has announced an opportunity for transit agencies to apply for US$7m in new federal funding for projects that demonstrate innovative approaches to improve safety for public transportation workers and passengers. The Safety Research & Demonstration (SRD) program supports research on new technologies and safer vehicle designs to reduce the potential for accidents. The SRD Program provides technical and financial support for transit agencies to pursue new approaches to avoid safety hazards, including exploring technologies that prevent collisions, as well as those that protect transit bus operators from assault.

For example, FTA is looking for state-of-the-art safety solutions. Examples include automated warning systems that help bus operators avoid collisions, that warn drivers of the proximity of vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists, or that detect obstructions in their path; or vehicle design improvements to reduce bus operator blind spots.

Partly as a result of a July 2015 report from FTA’s Transit Advisory Committee for Safety (TRACS), which detailed violence against public transportation workers, the agency is also seeking proposals that develop and demonstrate protection systems that prevent bus operator assaults, such as protective barriers, video surveillance systems, emergency communication systems, and vehicle location systems.

FTA grantees, such as public transport agencies and state departments of transportation (DOTs), are eligible to apply and encouraged to partner with for-profit companies, nonprofit organizations, and other state or local entities. Applications are due by October 14, 2016.

The SRD program is one of FTA’s public transportation innovation programs authorized under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which established requirements to improve the safety of public transportation systems nationwide. The 2016 funding opportunity is the latest round of grants promoting transit safety through new technologies. In 2015, FTA provided US$29m to 13 organizations for research, as part of Innovative Safety, Resiliency, and All-Hazards Emergency Response and Recovery Demonstration funding.

“The safety of our transportation systems is the department’s number one priority,” said US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “With these new grants, FTA is funding research on cutting-edge technologies to improve the performance of public transportation, making a safe mode of travel even safer for passengers, as well as those who keep the trains and buses running.”

FTA Acting Administrator Carolyn Flowers noted, “The research we are funding will not only highlight new ways to ensure safety throughout our public transportation systems, but it is also intended to improve the safety culture at transit agencies. We believe this grant opportunity will lead the way on developing technological innovations and design modifications in areas of critical safety needs, particularly for bus operators.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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