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Did the SEPTA Strike Do Anything to Improve Safety for Mass Transit Passengers?


On November 1st, the 4,700 public transportation workers responsible for keeping Philadelphia’s transit system moving went on strike. The concerns that spurred the work stoppage included wages and health care benefits, and these were the topics that generated the most conversation and attention in the press. But pocketbook topics were not the only major issues: there were also efforts directed at addressing driver fatigue and their impact on the safety of mass transit passengers. Now that the strike is over, having ended early in the morning of November 7th, passengers are wondering whether the new contract will do anything to lessen the risk of mass transit accidents.

The news has been filled with stories of accidents that have been linked to driver fatigue, and this is as true of mass transit accidents as those involving passenger car drivers and commercial trucks. There is significant research that has pointed to human fatigue as a serious health hazard that affects judgement, reaction time, decision making and control. The management of organizations like SEPTA have to find a way to balance their ability to keep costs low and providing drivers and transit operators with the ability to get the rest that they need in order to provide a safe environment for their riders.  The drivers themselves recognize this delicate balance and want to receive more pay and more robust health benefits, but they also expressed in their strike negotiations the need to provide adequate opportunity for rest periods and breaks.

The system that was in place prior to the strike provided for a waiver to existing state laws regarding regulations on commercial drivers. Those responsible for operating SEPTA’s buses are not permitted to be on duty for more than 16 hours a day, and can’t work for more than 30 hours in two back-to-back days. Further they are required to have an eight-hour rest period between shifts. But drivers feel a need for more rest time to ensure passenger safety. May indicated that they need more time at the end of a route, and that they are concerned that the current schedule means that they are driving tired on a constant basis. Also at issue is the fact that transit operators are not permitted to sleep on the premises at the bus depot, and this means that those who are working a swing shift need to find someplace else to get some rest – and that their travel time to wherever that may be cuts down on the amount of time that they can sleep.

The terms of the newly negotiated contract have not yet been revealed, so it is difficult to tell whether they will do anything to improve passenger safety.  At the Philadelphia law firm of Philly justice, our attorneys are passionate in pursuing justice for those who are injured in mass transit accidents. If you or someone you love has been injured in a mass transit accident, contact us for immediate help.