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How far does mass transit have to go to provide security?

Most of us have been through the complex airport security measures put in place nationwide following 9/11. We all understand the need for the heightened security and, with some grumbling, most of us accept the measures as a necessary precaution in our modern world. But many of us who commute by public transit in New York every day also wonder why transit stations don’t enforce the same level of security.

According to an online article published on Security-Net website, mass transit hubs offer a peculiar challenge for installing and enforcing security measures. Many major stations and smaller sub-stations have yet to develop the measures that may one day prove to save lives.

So, what is the problem? Size and numbers.

Airports across the nation were (and are) constructed with limited public access that funnels people through a main ticketing lobby prior to dispersal to various concourses for specific flights. Airport commissions have worked hard for years, along with the TSA, to provide strict access limitations and security measures onto the main concourses. Train and subway stations and bus depots, however, do not have the advantage of a large space. Passengers typically depart directly from the main ticketing lobby, often directly onto the loading platform before entering the vehicle.

The numbers of people using rail, bus and even fairy transport every day is roughly 15 times greater than the number of people funneling through airports. In New York City, in fact, about 55 percent of commuters rely on public transit, including commuter trains, subways, buses, ferries, taxis and even cable cars. Setting up security measures at each of the small exit doors leading to the platforms would be a logistical nightmare for getting passengers loaded and the trains or buses departing on time. Restricting public access to the main ticketing lobbies, likewise, would have the effect of creating long lines outside the doors, and out onto the public sidewalks.

Does that mean public transit authorities don’t share liability?

Public transit authorities acknowledge the difficulties in setting up effective security measures against those who intend harm. Unfortunately, most of their current measures are based more on capturing the bad guys after the fact, rather than preventing attacks from happening in the first place. Security cameras are in place and active on most loading platforms, in addition to guards and transit police patrolling the areas. But in many locations, little has been put in place as preventative measures. As David Sime, president of Contava, a security integration and IT company acknowledges, “Whether it is on the bus, train or ferry or at the stops themselves, cameras and intuitive video management systems are the key to both active and forensic transit security.”

In the event of an injury at a public commuter station, the transit provider may be held liable for full and fair damages, including medical costs, lost earnings and pain and suffering. New York courts take public safety seriously and expect public transit providers to do everything reasonable to prevent and avoid injuries. When it comes to security measures, however, rail and bus transit authorities still have a long way to go to catch up to airport security.

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