Legislators push for transit security funding

House lawmakers said this week they are concerned that public ground transportation systems get far less federal funding for security than aviation, despite the fact that they carry eight times as many passengers on a daily basis.

"Transit systems are particularly vulnerable to attack because they have open access with frequent stops and transfer points, and serve high concentrations of people in crowded areas," said Rep. Thomas Petri (R-Wis.), who is chairman of the Highways, Transit and Pipelines Subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, during a June 22 hearing.

Petri cited statistics indicating that 42 percent of terrorist attacks in the past 10 years have been on trains and buses.

About 14 million people use public transit daily in the United States, but such systems have received only $115 million in the past two years for security-related measures, said Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.). On the other hand, air carriers handle about 1.8 million passengers daily, but the aviation industry has received about $11 billion during that same time.

Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) echoed those statistics later during the hearing. He said the federal government should financially help the private aviation industry with security, but they could be more responsive to transit agencies.

Funding is "out of whack," he said. "We are not proactive enough, I must conclude, in responding to needs."

Federal officials said they are increasing their request for funding for bus and rail systems in fiscal 2005. Chet Lunner, assistant administrator of the Transportation Security Administration's Office of Maritime and Land Security, said the Homeland Security Department's fiscal 2005 budget proposes $1.45 billion for transit agencies through the Urban Area Security Initiative program, although not all of it is earmarked for security efforts.

He also said the Transportation Department's fiscal 2005 proposal calls for $4 billion in transit formula grants, of which $37 million must be spent on security by law.

Nobody wants to be blamed for the next terrorist attack, but it's impossible to protect everything, so officials should focus on getting the most bang for the buck, said Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.).

It's a "natural instinct to try to protect everything we can," Lunner said, but TSA and DOT officials are trying to spend taxpayer dollars wisely to get long-term payback. He said he's met with British, Israeli, Dutch and French security experts recently about their experience with rail security and will meet with Canadian officials later this week.

Lunner also outlined several government initiatives, such as a test of emerging technologies that screen rail passengers and carry-on baggage for explosives in Maryland last month and another test that will be conducted at Union Station in Washington, D.C., this month.

In testimony today, William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association, a nonprofit international group with more than 1,500 member organizations, said a survey showed that transit agencies identified $6 billion in security needs. He said from Sept. 11, 2001, through 2003, public transportation agencies spent about $1.7 billion for increased closed-circuit TV surveillance, more training, hiring more personnel and K-9 units, and chemical detection systems.

Millar urged Congress to fund $6 billion worth of transit security needs over three years.

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