November 18, 2018

While incidents involving bus or train crashes stay in public memory longer than car accidents, the truth is you are much more likely to be hurt or killed in a car than on public transit.

With testing of the Ion light rail system underway, the day is approaching when the trains join cars, buses and pedestrians on the bustling streets of Waterloo region.

Many drivers may lament losing lanes to the light rail, though the truth is that the risks of taking public transit are significantly less than those of travelling by car. According to the 2016 report by the American Public Transit Association, public transit typically has one tenth of the casualty rate of cars, based on distance traveled.

Students load onto GRT buses at Conestoga College Doon campus in Kitchener, Ont., on Nov. 1 2018. Photo by Jeff Halcrow | Spoke News

Among traffic fatalities, 40 per cent involve pedestrians, cyclists and passengers — not just drivers. According to statistics, it is safer to be a pedestrian or to ride public transit than it is to drive a car.

Not only does taking public transit reduce the number of cars on the road, but public transit vehicles are most often large, highly visible and in some areas have specific lanes designated for buses or rail cars. All of these elements add up to make public transit one of the safest modes of travel.

These figures are certainly a boon for public transit, though it begs the question: What can be done to make our buses, streetcars and trains safer?

When is the last time you’ve seen a seat belt on a public bus or school bus? If seating is unavailable, most people on a crowded bus are relegated to standing, clutching onto a support rod or a handle suspended from the ceiling. While these vehicles are safer when operated by trained professionals, legislators and manufacturers may have grown complacent, as very little has changed to update the safety features on must public buses.

The Grand River Transit (GRT) website has a list of the new features present on their Ion bus line, which will operate in Cambridge and connect to the light rail when begins in Kitchener and Waterloo.

The list includes

  • USB charging stations
  • Wifi
  • High-back seating
  • Tinted, flush-mounted windows
  • Aluminum wheels
  • High-visibility white destination sign
  • Special paint scheme consistent with ION light rail vehicles

While these high-tech features are a welcome addition to the bus line, one must wonder what other safety-related components may have been left on the cutting room floor. 

GRT staff did not respond to requests for comment.

Another difficulty surrounding transit in the public forum is the narrative that normally surrounds a crash. Every day there are numerous car collisions, so much so that news media and the public have grown indifferent to the constant flood of car accidents. When an incident with a public or private bus happens, it can be in the headlines for weeks, but rarely does such a tragedy result in change to safety devices and protocols.

Public transit is not just an alternative to driving, but the safest method of travel when available. While steps are being taken to modernize public transit, going forward there needs to be a discussion on how to improve the safety of buses and trains.

For further information on the Ion light rail and bus route, follow the links below

Ion Light Rail

Ion Bus

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