In December, SMART-TD announced the members who will serve on the Bus and Transit Assault Prevention and Safety (BTAPS) Committee. This committee, which was voted on at the 2023 SMART Leadership Conference in Washington, DC, is being chaired by Christine Ivey, a member of SMART-TD Local 1785 who works as a bus operator for the Santa Monica Municipal Bus Lines.

In addition to Sister Ivey, the members of the BTAPS Committee will be the following:

Bus members

  • Russ Gaillard, Local 1582, Adirondack Transit Lines, Albany, New York
  • Sandra Pineda, Local 1563, LACMTA, El Monte, California
  • Bruce Cheatham, Local 1594, SEPTA, Upper Darby, Pennsylvania
  • Pedro (Pete) Lara, Jr., Local 1563, LACMTA, El Monte, California

Transit/commuter members

  • Cole Czub, Local 898, KEOLIS, Boston, Massachusetts
  • Ernest Higgerson, Local 1525, Amtrak, Carbondale, Illinois
  • Joseph Williams, Local 800, New Jersey Transit, Newark, New Jersey

This committee will be focusing its efforts on lobbying at the state level and in Washington, DC, to promote bills that ensure the best demonstrated practices for transit worker safety and bring down the alarming rate of assaults on our brothers and sisters. BTAPS members will also be working with carriers, the Federal Transit Administration and other federal agencies to promote best practices to make our members safer on the job.

“I want to thank all our bus and transit members who volunteered to serve on this important committee. After careful consideration, we have chosen eight members that represent a geographically diverse cross section of our bus, transit and commuter service workforce,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said. “We are lucky to have many talented people in our union, and we look forward to the progress this BTAPS Committee will make. Under Christine Ivey’s leadership, I am sure they will make an immediate impact on the safety of our bus and transit rail members.”

SMART–TD is proud to represent the men and women driving the buses in America. The vast majority of our bus operators are assigned to fixed routes and drive 40–50-foot buses which require a Commercial Driver’s License, (CDL). These norms are and always have been the standards of mass transit.

Another consistent theme of mass transit has been that it transported people “in mass.” That seems like a detail that should be baked into the cake. Lately, bussing companies bussing departments in some metropolitan areas, and even the federal government have begun to lose their focus on this truth.

There is a new focus emerging known as “Micro-Transit.” This entails folks using an app or calling in and requesting personal transportation from their door to the location of their choosing. Maybe I’m missing something, but that is called calling a cab or an Uber.

What is not clear, is why our tax dollars are going towards subsidizing someone’s taxi ride. During the pandemic, there was a natural incentive to get creative finding ways to reduce the amount of people in confined spaces like public buses. But the offering of these micro transit options at the expense of the public feels like we are all being taken for a ride.

This is not just a waste of all of our money in the form of government spending, but it is a direct threat to the livelihoods of our SMART Bus Operators. These micro transit options that are popping up nationwide are beginning to reduce ridership numbers on the fixed bus routes. Reduced head counts will eventually manifest themselves as issues in the way of reductions in fixed routes, less need for our traditional bus operators, and a decline in the budget for maintenance on the bus fleets.

It is not a matter of our operators transitioning to driving micro transit vehicles and moving on with their lives. There are many factors that make that an unrealistic solution to the problem.

First, and most obvious, is that CDL’s are not a requirement to drive the types of vehicles used in micro transit. All that is needed to operate these vehicles is a Class C driver’s license in most states. A Class C is much easier to obtain, requiring far less training and does carry with it the federal standards and expectations of a CDL. Fittingly, the micro-transit operators do not get paid on the same scale as our SMART–TD fixed route brothers and sisters. Additionally, some micro transit drivers are not union workers therefore they do not enjoy collective bargaining or the pay and healthcare benefits that come with it.

These operators have families who depend on their income, benefits packages, and the schedules they have earned via their seniority. Working on call for less money and no union protection and losing their seniority by working for new employers is not an apples-to-apples comparison.

On top of the injustice that publicly subsidizing micro transit heaps on our SMART membership, there is the short-sited use of our public dollars at issue. The Federal government has a fixed amount of funding set aside for public transportation each year. This is to say that for every dollar that gets sent to the micro-transit sector, mass transit loses access to that dollar. From SMART–TD’s perspective, our union members are not the only people with a dog in this fight.

Mass transit receives public funding for a reason. It brings about public good. Getting people to work, medical appointments, and the grocery store each day is not only a public service, but it is good public policy. Our bus operators are critical to this country’s economy and the quality of life for many of our citizens. The return on investment that occurs when tax dollars are used to promote and enhance public transportation has proven time and again to be among the best investments this country can make in itself. To take a single dollar away from this system to provide door-to-door service to get Karen from the suburbs to a restaurant in the city and back home is not creating anywhere close to the same benefit for our nation.

The arguments against publicly funding micro transit go on and on. Higher cost of maintaining larger fleets of vehicles that are more prone to problems, lower life expectancy of the smaller vehicles compared to the standard busses, and most importantly the loss of safety brought on by running these vehicles through our communities without the valuable and certified expertise of our SMART brothers and sisters operating them, are among the problems being referred to.

To highlight SMART–TD’s objections to this shift to publicly supporting micro transportation, we would summarize by saying that it is nonsense to spend our tax dollars on a more expensive transportation model that serves fewer people, pays lower wages, and reduces the role of our highly skilled bus operators. As SMART members, and as tax-paying Americans, we should all be aware of the slippery slope we are on with this phenomenon and should take every opportunity to speak out against it.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced March 18 that the 31 State Safety Oversight (SSO) programs in 30 states have been certified in advance of the April 15, 2019, safety deadline.
“Safety is the department’s top priority, and we are pleased that all states have met certification requirements and are providing more rigorous state safety oversight of federally funded rail transit systems,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao.
Changes in federal public transportation law required states to strengthen the oversight of rail transit systems. The SSO Final Rule included a three-year compliance deadline and applied to federally funded rail fixed guideway public transportation systems such as heavy rail, light rail, monorail and streetcar systems.
“The hard work of state agencies and our shared commitment to improving the safety of our nation’s rail transit systems has been a driving force to establish stronger state safety oversight,” said FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams.
To assist states in meeting the enhanced safety provisions, federal law authorized a formula grant program. Since 2013, FTA has provided approximately $136.1 million to eligible states to develop and implement a SSO Program compliant with federal requirements.
To achieve FTA certification, a SSO program had to meet several federal statutory requirements, including establishing a SSO agency that is financially and legally independent from the rail transit agencies it oversees. In addition, a state had to ensure that its SSO agency adopts and enforces relevant federal and state safety laws, has investigatory authority, and has appropriate financial and human resources for the number, size and complexity of the rail transit systems within the state’s jurisdiction. Furthermore, SSO agency personnel responsible for performing safety oversight activities had to be appropriately trained.
If a state had failed to meet the deadline, FTA would have been prohibited by law from awarding any new federal transit funds to transit agencies within the state until certification was achieved.

According to an report, a school bus – with no children on board – crashed into a Maryland Transit Association bus carrying dozens of commuters. Six people were killed and several were injured.  Click here to read the complete article. Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP.

The Times-Herald RecordOnline reported that on October 21, 2016, a joint state and federal legislative commission will begin hearings with New Jersey Transit (NJT) administrators in the wake of the September 29 Hoboken, NJ transit crash that injured more than one hundred and killed Fabiola Bittar de Kroon, a young mother and lawyer who had recently moved to New Jersey with her husband and one-year-old daughter. Read the complete article here.

The New York Times reported that a New Jersey Transit train has crashed into a major Hoboken, NJ transit hub during rush hour.  A transportation official confirmed that one person has died and many others have been injured. Urban Search and Rescue squads are at the site.  No details yet on exact numbers of deaths or injured, or the cause of the crash.   Read the story here.


Just ask UTU District of Columbia Legislative Director Willie Bates about safety standards for rail-transit systems.

Unlike freight and passenger railroads, rail-transit systems are not bound by federal construction standards, nor are their workers in safety senstive positions governed by federal hours-of-service limitations, says Bates.

As a member of the Obama administration’s 20-person Transit Rail Advisory Committee for Safety, Bates is collaborating with his fellow committee members to draft federal regulations for 47 separate such systems that currently set their own safety rules and procedures.

Congressional action will be needed to put them in place, as a 1964 law prohibits federal oversight of transit agencies. Bates supports giving the Federal Transit Administration regulatory authority for transit-system safety, pointing to a 2011 National Transportation Safety Board report citing “inconsistent practices, inadequate standards and marginal effectiveness with respect to state safety oversight of rail-transit systems.”

Bates last year was named by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to the Transit Rail Advisory Committee for Safety for good reason. In 2009, Amtrak’s highest safety honor — the Charles Luna Memorial Safety Award — was bestowed upon Bates, who has worked injury-free for 25 years as an Amtrak conductor, and never had a safety-rules violation. The award is named for the UTU’s first International president, who later was an Amtrak board member.

And in 2011, the Governor of Virginia bestowed upon Bates the Governor’s Transportation Safety Award for rail transportation. Bates formerly was president and vice local chairperson for UTU Local 1933 in Richmond.

The efforts of the Transit Rail Advisory Committee are supported by the UTU National Legislative Office, which is educating congressional lawmakers on the importance of standardized federal safety standards for rail transit systems.