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The Safety of Public Transportation Essay

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The Safety of Public Transportation A1

August 15, 2013 A2

Outline A3

THESIS:         Public transportation in the United States and other developed countries is generally safe, but recent issues regarding accidents and incidents have brought to light concerns that must be addressed to protect both passengers and property.
  1. Public transportation involves any system that is not private to one or more individuals.
  1. Airlines are a form of public transportation.
  2. Many people travel on buses, especially in larger cities.
  3. Trains are still an important form of transportation in many places.
  1. Safety records of public transportation companies are important.
  1. Some airlines have more accidents than others.
  2. Not all bus companies are thorough in their hiring practices.
  3. Train operators need special training, but they can still make errors.
  1. For the future, all forms of public transportation need to be made safer.
  1. Newer aircraft make flying safer for passengers and crew.
  2. Most bus accidents are driver error, not equipment failure.
  3. Trains have come a long way from where they began.

Introduction A4

Many people drive their cars to work each day. Some of them also walk or bicycle, depending on the climate in which they live and how close they are to their office or other place of business. The kind of job they have also affects their mode of transportation, as some jobs require a higher level of presentation and professionalism than others. For people who do not drive, bike, or walk to work, public transportation is the best and most common option. This mode of transportation generally includes buses for getting around town, and many large cities also have commuter trains. For longer trips related to business, train lines such as Amtrak as well as airlines are the preferred methods of getting from one place to another. While taxis and for-hire cars are also public transportation, they retain a degree of privacy in that they can only move much smaller groups of people at a time. Public transportation A5 in the United States and other developed countries is generally safe, but recent issues regarding accidents and incidents have brought to light concerns that must be addressed to protect both passengers and property.

The Definition of Public Transportation A6

            Any transportation that is not private is public (Newman & Kenworthy 1999). A7 If a person is driving his or her car on public roadways, that is still private transportation because the car belongs to a particular person. It does not belong to the city or a company that contracts with the city to carry passengers. If a person gets on a bus, plane, or train operated by a city or other municipality, or operated by a company that is in a contract with that city or municipality, he or she is riding in public transportation. The rules are different when considering public versus private transportation, of course, and the costs are also different. Another consideration and difference is the safety. How safe one is in his or her private car versus how safe that same person is in public transportation is worth considering when deciding which option to choose.

Airlines A8

            Airlines allow people to get from one place to another quite quickly. They can travel to another city, another state, or even another country, in a matter of hours. It is convenient, and it is not necessarily that expensive. Most of the cost depends on how far in advance one books his or her flight. The distance to travel, the number of checked bags, and the airline also matters where cost is concerned. When choosing an airline, it is important to be aware of the price, but there are other factors that also matter. Some airlines will get a person to his or her destination much more quickly, while others will have more stops. These will delay a person's arrival, and many people want non-stop flights to wherever they are headed. Unfortunately, the majority of people who book a flight do not spend time researching the safety of the airline they have chosen. A9

Buses

A lack of safety research is also true with buses. There may be only one choice for a bus line, whether a person is traveling around the city or across the country. However, there is always the choice to take an alternate method of transportation, instead. In other words, it is possible to choose the bus or something else, depending on whether the person feels safe on that particular bus. If the bus manufacturer, the driver, or the company have a reputation for problems, it may be wise to take a different mode of transportation. However, it may cost more to do that, and may also be inappropriate or inconvenient based on where and when the person needs to travel.   
Trains

Trains are not as common in the United States when it comes to public transportation. Amtrak is popular to some degree, and there are also light rail and other trains that travel within cities to help move people efficiently. However, many other developed countries use high speed and other rail systems for city-wide travel and also for moving from one city or location to another (Newman & Kenworthy, 1999). These are used often, but they are not perfect. There are risks to using them, especially those that travel at very high speeds. A simple operator error or a malfunction of any one of the parts can cause the train to derail, or make it impossible to stop correctly. Most people who travel this way do not think of the risks, but understanding them is important.

Safety Records of Public Transportation

            In order to clearly understand whether public transportation is a good idea for the majority of people in most circumstances, it is important to view the safety records these methods of travel have. This can take time and effort, because there are a large number of different options based on the countries, the companies, and other factors. However, an overview will be provided here in order to get the basic idea of the concerns that people face when they choose public transportation over private options like personal automobiles, bicycles, and even walking to where they want to go.

Airlines

            Overall, airlines have the best safety record of any type of public transportation. The risk of the average American dying in an airplane crash in any given year is approximately one in 11 million (Ropeik, 2006). That is extremely low. The reason airplane crashes seem so devastating is because they make the news and there are often large numbers (in the hundreds) of people injured or killed (Ropeik, 2006). Compared to the number of planes and passengers that fly throughout the world every day, though, the risk of death in an airplane crash is exceedingly small. Naturally, one must consider how much one actually flies. People who fly frequently will have a slightly higher risk than those who rarely set foot on an airplane.

Buses

            Bus accidents occur most often during adverse weather conditions, but can take place any time. In 2009 in the United States, nearly 241 million people traveled by bus (Wihbey, 2013). Of those people, 250 died and 20,000 were injured (Wihbey, 2013). The average number of bus accidents each year is 63,000, which is significantly more than accidents that involve airplanes. However, most of the people who are involved in bus crashes survive, as opposed to the many people who die if their plane crashes. The scope of the crash itself is often less devastating with a vehicle that is on the ground as opposed to in the air.

Trains

            According to information from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), nearly 1,000 people die each year in train accidents (McAleer, 2013). Other issues also lead to environmental damage and risk. Things like chemical spills from derailing freight trains cause hazards that can and should be avoided (McAleer, 2013). While trains are not as common of a method of public transportation, the popularity of commuter trains in various cities is growing. With that in mind, it becomes very important to focus on understanding the risks and benefits that are seen when traveling by train.

The Future of Public Transportation

            There are no guarantees when it comes to what will be done with public transportation in the future. Each country has its own regulations where transportation is concerned. Because of that, there will likely not be any worldwide changes. Additionally, there are a limited number of regulations that can be placed on companies that provide transportation for the public. If regulations are not strict enough, people could be placed in danger. If the regulations are too strict, companies will not be interested in the contract with the city or other municipality. This is an area that has to be more carefully considered by all parties to the public transportation issue in the future.

Airlines

            There are limited options to make airlines safer. Pilot error is often the cause of plane crashes, so better working hours and conditions are important (FAA, n.d.). C2 Additionally, planes themselves need to be inspected more often and retired earlier. They are used for many years, especially be airlines that are underfunded or that do not have a lot of money (FAA, n.d.). While the rates charged to passengers continue to rise, the maintenance and replacement of planes and other equipment is still lacking. Until and unless these serious issues are corrected, the level of risk taken by passengers when flying will not be lowered. It is, however, impossible to eliminate all the risk of flying. The level of risk can only be mitigated as much as possible.

Buses

            Issues with bus safety are also something to consider for the future. Buses have not changed fundamentally in years, but the quality of the people hired to drive the buses can make a huge difference in the safety rating of the company (NTSB, 2011). Some companies are much more likely to have accidents, but all buses can malfunction or the driver can make an error. Most of the accidents are fairly minor, and there is no way to completely stop the risk of accidents unless all buses are removed from the streets. That would not be realistic. However, one of the main considerations for the future may be to change or cancel bus routes during severe weather in parts of the country where there is a strong risk of accidents on the road. However, many people still need to travel, even during adverse weather conditions. They need to have buses running so they can get where they are going, and stopping routes due to weather could cost the bus company too much in uncollected profits. The NTSB has lobbied for specific improvements to buses, including increased protection for occupants, better federal oversight, and advanced vehicle technologies like lane-departure warnings and stability control (NTSB, 2011).

Trains

            Trains are one of the safest modes of transportation. There is little that can be done in the future to make them safer. Operator error is always a concern, of course, but the odds of a malfunction are low. When a train does derail, it is generally because of the aforementioned operator error, or because of a problem with the tracks on which the trains run (McLaughlin, 2013). This is the area on which focus should be placed – the tracks. If these can be made safer, there will be a lower risk to passengers riding trains, whether that is Amtrak across the country or a smaller system contained within a specific city or area. With more areas moving toward high-speed rail lines, though, more safety questions will be raised. The crash that killed more than 80 people in Spain in July of 2013 shed light on the risk for the future of train travel (McLaughlin, 2013).

Conclusion

            As can be seen by the information contained herein, there are risks and benefits to every mode of public transportation. People who travel this way are putting their lives into the hands of other people, and putting their trust in those people to avoid mistakes and to keep equipment up to date and working properly. Unfortunately, accidents and problems can still occur. Nothing is completely foolproof, and even the most conscientious operator of a public transportation vehicle can make a mistake or have a medical event that leads to a problem. When these kinds of things occur, they are unavoidable. This is also true of issues with the equipment. Even when it is regularly maintained and cared for, a part can break or fail unexpectedly. While it is possible to work to make public transportation safer, it is impossible to make it completely safe and avoid any risk of accident or injury.

Works Cited C3

FAA. C4 FAA boss reflects on present and future airline safety. Aerospace Facts. No date. Web. August 15, 2013.

Hersman, C5 D. (2011). Op-Ed on motorcoach safety. NTSB. Retrieved August 15, 2013 from http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/2011/doswell_va_oped.html

McAleer Law (2013). Train accident statistics. Retrieved August 13, 2013 from http://www.mcaleerlaw.com/what-we-do/train-accident-statistics

McLaughlin, C6 Elliot C. (2013). 5 questions on high-speed rail and its U.S. future. CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/25/us/spain-high-speed-rail-5-questions (Accessed August 14, 2013).

Newman, P. & Kenworthy, J.R. (1999). Sustainability and cities: Overcoming automobile dependence. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Ropeik, C7 David. How Risky is Flying? NOVA. PBS.org. October 2006. Web. August 13 2013.

Wihbey,  C8 J. 2013. Bus crashes in the United States: What does the research say? Journalist's Resource. . [August 14, 2013]


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