Metro Transit is the public transportation agency for the St. Louis, Mo., region, and is responsible for running public busses, light-rail, and even the tram inside the Gateway Arch. CLM Fellow Craig Macdonald explains how he manages to keep everything on track.
How did you end up in risk management?
I started at Metro Transit in 1990, and that’s been my whole career in risk management. Prior to that, I was in the claims business for about 20 years. I started out as a multiline claims adjuster with Crawford & Co., then went to a couple of different multiline commercial casualty insurers before moving to claims management. When this job came open, I saw that they were looking for someone with a strong claims background because they were bringing the claims operation in-house. The transit agency had been self-insured and used a TPA, but they wanted to self-administer. I knew the claims business inside and out, and risk management was enticing—I had already earned my CPCU and taken a couple risk management classes—so it was the right opportunity at the right time.
What is your risk management philosophy?
I’ve always believed that risk management should be a holistic enterprise from beginning to end. In other words, if you’re going to manage risk, you need to start at the beginning and prevent losses, transfer risk if someone else can handle it better, and be aggressive in managing claims. Finally, you need to use your data to really develop a safety strategy.
What influence do events in other parts of the country have on you?
We watch the industry all the time. After 9/11, we discovered that our emergency preparedness planning was separated into three areas: security, safety, and operations. So we created a manager of emergency preparedness, which is someone who can focus on training, preparing the documented plans, and coordinating with security and operations.
For incidents like the recent train derailment in New York, there are certain things we have to comply with as far as our safety practices and regulations with the Department of Transportation, including audits every few years. The situation in New York occurred because they didn’t have a fully activated train control system. We have one, so we issued a press release shortly after the accident to get out in front of the issue and help educate and inform the public.
Tell me about Metro Transit.
We are the regional public transportation agency, and we operate 400 busses and a light-rail system that covers about 47 miles with 80 train cars that operates nearly 22 hours a day. There is a fleet of 100 or so vans that provide transportation for elderly and disabled people, and we also manage the tram that goes up and down in the Gateway Arch. Lastly, we have a general aviation airport in southern Illinois, and several riverboat tourist attractions on the Mississippi River. So we have some unique exposures.
Speaking of unique claims, what kinds do you typically encounter?
It’s extremely rare for claims to occur at the Arch. The riverboats might have one or two a year, usually a slip and fall or an injured worker, which can involve marine law. Most of our claims activity includes collisions and people slipping getting on and off the busses and trains. We have 18 parking lots, which can create some premises occurrences. We also have had a few highway grade crossing collisions, which can be very serious since it involves someone driving a car around a gate and getting hit by a train. Obviously, those claims necessitate a lot of technical detail and can be very involved.
Is there a claim that sticks out in your 23 years of service?
In 1997, a trainee bus operator was pulling in toward a bus shelter to pick up a crowd of waiting passengers. The driver was startled by a horn, and she hit the accelerator instead of the brake. She ran over 19 people, killing four and seriously injuring the rest. Total damages were about $4.5 million dollars. That by far was the worst bus accident we’ve ever had.
We are a government agency, and we have sovereign immunity in Missouri, but not in Illinois. We have a cap on damages in Missouri as a public entity of about $400,000/person and $2.5 million/occurrence. That cap was not in place in 1997, however. It was instituted in 2005