Would-be plotters bent on staging an attack aboard a passenger plane know they’ve first got to pass through a gauntlet of security measures at an airport, from body scans and spot interrogations to pat-downs and even close scrutiny of their shoes.
But a shooting that killed a person and wounded five this week on a Greyhound bus in California illustrates a stark reality about security on buses and trains: Anyone determined to carry out an attack on ground transportation faces few, if any, security checks.
The comparative scant security prompted at least one survivor of Monday’s shooting on the bus heading from Los Angeles to San Francisco to rethink his future mode of travel.
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“I think I will just fly from now on,” Mark Grabban said.
He was on the bus with his girlfriend when a passenger who’d been muttering and cursing opened fire with a semi-automatic handgun.
Grabban’s perception was that Greyhound worried more about stopping passengers from smoking and talking too loudly than ensuring no one got aboard with a gun.
“It’s astounding and shameful,” the 30-year-old said.
Greyhound has declined to comment.
In the four years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, some U.S. lawmakers complained that way too little federal money was spent on ground transit security compared with what was spent on airports. Then-U.S. Rep. David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, estimated that $22 billion had gone into airline security in those years, while less than $550 million went to security for buses, trains, subways and ferries combined.
There’s no indication spending gaps have closed. That’s true even though vastly more people get on a bus, train or subway than on planes each day. More than 30 million Americans use ground transit daily, compared with around 2 million who fly.
Violent incidents on buses are extremely rare. But concerns have arisen that with airports more secure than ever, would-be terrorists in particular could see buses and other ground transit as easier targets.
The Transportation Security Administration was established in 2001 to fix security holes that allowed for the 9/11 attacks, with a mandate to check 100% of baggage through airports.
That level of security would be impossible on the country’s sprawling bus and rail lines.
More than 70,000 buses operate on 230,000 miles (370,149 kilometers) of roadways, according to the American Public Transportation Association. Even if money could be found to pay for metal detectors at bus stations, it would be impossible to have them at every stop along a route, security experts say.