Monday, June 9, 2008

So, is it safe or not?

Nice bit of sensationalism on the front page of yesterday's Globe West. Splashed across the front page of the section was a huge headline: Is this ride safe?

"I decided to take the T this morning because I wanted to save on gas," said the 45-year-old social worker, who has been riding the Green Line for three decades. "But I'm still hesitant about getting on and taking a chance with my life."

Smith's ambivalence was shared by numerous riders interviewed in the wake of the May 28 crash, which claimed the life of Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority driver Terrese Edmonds, 24, of South Boston.

And, it goes on like that. A teenager who rides the T because she has no choice. A software engineer who figures the law of averages is on her side. A medical technician who doesn't think it's "any more unsafe than driving my car in Boston." And this touching vignette near the article's end:

Smith said she hopes the tragedy will convince T officials of the need to reduce speeds along the Green Line's Riverside spur, and to put stricter rules in place to ensure that drivers "are paying attention."

Until they do, she said, she will continue to ride the train with a lump in her throat and butterflies in her stomach. She now makes a point to ride in the middle of the trolley, she said, to make sure she is away from any potential impact points should a crash occur.

But, no answer to the headline.

Imagine an article bold enough to actually answer the question:

Should we fear public transportation following one of the worst transit accidents in recent MBTA history?

Turns out, the Globe itself published one of those in the very same paper!

The numbers say no. Even with several memorable trolley crashes in recent years, driving a car is still more dangerous.

Last month's crash in Newton was rare in that someone died. But there are thousands of fatal car crashes each year.

In 2006, 44,912 people died in American transportation-related accidents, according to the most recent federal statistics. Of those, 13 died while using light rail systems such as the Green Line. Thirty-two people died on subways and 27 on buses - including school, intercity, and local transit.

The vast majority - 30,521 victims - died in cars or light trucks. That doesn't include motorcycle riders and pedestrians and cyclists hit by cars, which also number well into the thousands.

Of course, if you were looking for that kind of reporting in the Globe West, you left disappointed.

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