When it comes to transit terrorism, the Bay Area, and, for that matter, most of America, can count itself pretty safe.
Area this week in the wake of the horrific commuter train bombings in India.
Photo by Aijaz Rahi – AP
“In the abstract sense, we’re just as vulnerable. We’ve learned, and it is fairly apparent, that transit properties are vulnerable,” Haas says, while air travel is much more secure because airports are easier to seal off and police.
“Public transportation is a fairly open system, and therefore vulnerable to these kinds of attacks.”
Now for the not-so-abstract: In the United States, especially outside of New York and other big East Coast transit cities, commuters are safer “because we don’t use public transportation that much.
Turns out Haas has visited Mumbai, where his professional curiosity attracted him to the commuter rail system.
“But the hotel people said, `You don’t want to do that, it’s really miserably crowded. Those people are in there like sardines.
“I ended up taking a cab.”
But cabs are expensive in the Bay Area, so we drive our cars and pay what we must for gas, and don’t risk getting blown up the way those unfortunates on BART do every day when they scoot through the Transbay Tube.
Haas says that 30 percent of all the transit trips in the United States are in New York, which helps explain why that city’s transit was the target of the bombing plot our government says it foiled.
On the other coast, “Silicon Valley, for example, has one of the lowest transit uses in the country. Not even carpooling is particularly popular.
But you never know when another terrorist cell might materialize in Lodi, Tracy or Manteca.
That’s why the Mineta Institute is offering a four-course transportation security certificate that teaches transportation professionals how to minimize risk. How does one minimize risk on our commuter rail systems? You can start by designing better stations, ones that don’t have many dark corners for the bad guys to hide in. That would help in, say, San Jose, where BART hasn’t been built yet.
You can also train your transit workers to be prepared for an attack, which could minimize the damage but not the risk of an attack. In the same vein, you can teach people to communicate with other agencies better, so police, firefighters, rescue workers and transit police are all on the same frequency, so to speak.
And on the really bright side, there are new types of explosive detectors that could be used, in theory, a least, without riders even knowing they were being scanned. Some people will object to being scanned, of course, but that’s why we have bikes.
And there’s a limit to everything.
“You do want them to feel safe and secure, but you don’t want them to feel paranoid or scared to get on the system,” Haas says. “They have enough problems getting people to use it as it is.”