Saturday, April 30, 2016

Transportation News Round-Up: April 30, 2016

Photo courtesy of Agence France-Presse.

This week in transportation, the TSA backed off on a plan to reverse-screen flyers, a solar plane crossed the Pacific, and the Massachusetts House approved funding for high-speed rail. Here are the most important and interesting stories from the past week:

POLITICO: TSA's idea: end screening at some airports
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is walking back a proposal to end screening at some regional airports after receiving sharp criticism from Congress. The plan would have ended security screening of domestic passengers at some regional airports (though it didn't say exactly which airports), instead 'reverse-screening' those passengers once they get to a larger airport. Rep. Greg Walder (R-OR) said the plan "makes no sense," while House Transportation Committee Ranking Member Rep. Mike DeFazio (D-OR) said "it was never our intent that they would dictate who can and cannot have commercial air service."

Reuters: Most Americans support usage fees to fix crumbling roads -survey
Nearly two-thirds of Americans support the idea of roadway user fees to pay for much-needed transportation infrastructure repair, according to a survey by Kelton Global for transportation consulting firm HNTB Corp. This would likely be a pay-per-mile tax system like the kind that has been piloted in Oregon and floated elsewhere. The article notes that the gasoline tax has been "waning" because of fuel efficient vehicles, changing driving habits, and tax rates that haven't grown with inflation.

POLITICO: Mayors: Flint could happen to us
Following the Flint water crisis, nearly 1/3 of American mayors think they "may already have hurt their own citizens" by making cost-saving decisions on their city's infrastructure, according to a survey. Across party lines, nearly half of the mayors believe their roads, bridges, and water pipes have deteriorated critically, with transportation infrastructure topping the list of infrastructure concerns. More than a third said the next President should prioritize infrastructure, far ahead of economic inequality and education.

ABC: Solar Impulse 2, flying on renewable energy, has safely landed in California
Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard (a good name for a pilot!) has successfully flown a solar plane from Hawaii to California, completing the ninth of 13 legs in his trip around the world. The goal of the flight, on an aircraft powered by 17,000 solar cells and with the wingspan of a jumbo jet, is to promote alternative energy: Piccard believes electric-powered planes carrying up to 50 passengers over short distances, could be possible within the next decades.

Mass Live: House budget would create working group for Boston-Springfield rail, including look at "Maglev" technology
The Massachusetts House passed a budget this week that includes an amendment to create a working group that will study the possibility of high-speed rail between Boston and Springfield. Similar to a working group created several years ago to explore expanded rail service between Springfield and Greenfield, the group would figure out what work would need to be done, and how much it would cost, to develop high-speed rail from Boston through Worcester to Springfield. This would include examining the possibility of Japanese "maglev" bullet train technology. Passed out of the House, the budget now needs Senate approval.

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Transportation News Round-Up: April 23, 2016

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

This week in transportation, Congress moved closer to reauthorizing the FAA, a Senate subcommittee passed a transportation appropriations bill, and California's high-speed rail adjustment got additional scrutiny. Here are the most important and interesting transportation stories of the week:

Politico: Senate passes FAA bill, and momentum moves back to the House
The U.S. Senate passed FAA reauthorization legislation on April 20, following House passage of a different reauthorization bill earlier in the year. One of the critical differences between the two chambers' bills is that the Senate version doesn't privatize our air traffic control system; it also doesn't include certain renewable energy tax provisions. Congress now has until the end of July to conference on the bill or pass a short-term extension before FAA's authorization expires.

The Hill: Appropriations subcommittee backs transportation spending bill
The Senate Appropriations subcommittee on transportation and housing unanimously reported its appropriations bill to the full committee this week. The bill would provide $56.5 billion to the Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other related agencies for fiscal year 2017. This includes $16.9 billion for DOT, about a 9 percent cut over the current funding level. The summary of the bill emphasizes the bill's focus on making transportation systems safer, more efficient, and reliable.

The Globe and Mail: Illinois drivers may soon have to pay per mile
To fill a $43 billion funding shortfall over the next decade, Illinois lawmakers are considering replacing the gas tax - which has become less adequate as cars become more fuel efficient - with a pay-per-mile tax scheme. Illinois drivers would have the option of installing a geo-location device to track their in-state mileage, pay based on their car odometer reading (which would include out-of-state mileage), or pay an annual flat fee of $450 (the equivalent of driving 30,000 miles). As I've written before, there will be a number of challenges associated with switching to a per-mile tax system, but it seems Illinois has already started grappling with some of these questions.

Sacramento Bee: California high-speed rail officials tinker with $64B plan
Sensing that more community engagement and transparency towards lawmakers is needed, the California High-Speed Rail Authority decided this week not to pass its latest business plan, which shifts the initial construction segment north to avoid the expensive mountainous stretch in Southern California, just yet. The Authority has to update its business plan every two years, but lawmakers and the public alike feel they weren't included in the process that led to this drastic change of plans, and worry that in two years the plan will simply change again.

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Transportation News Round-Up: April 9, 2016

Photo courtesy of the Wilmington News Journal

This week in transportation, an Amtrak train derailed in Pennsylvania, Illinois considered whether to raise its gas tax, and self-driving trucks completed an autonomous drive across Europe. Here are the most important and interesting stories from the past week:

USA Today: Two killed after Amtrak train slams into backhoe
Two Amtrak workers were killed, and several more injured, when an Amtrak train traveling south to Washington, DC struck a backhoe on the tracks. Service along much of the Northeast Corridor was suspended following the crash, though it has since been restored. We still don't know why the backhoe was operating on the tracks or whether the conductors were notified ahead of time of its presence. The collision comes just under one year after a derailment of an Amtrak train, also in the Philadelphia area, killed eight people.

New York Times: Washington Metro, 40 and creaking, stares at a midlife crisis
This is a great article that documents DC Metro's decline from a shining exemplar of public transportation into... well, what it is today on its fortieth birthday given declining ridership, underfunding and lack of federal support, and a steep drop in safety and reliability. The money quote: "But years of well-documented safety lapses, including a crash in 2009 that left nine people dead, as well as petty annoyances like broken escalators and train delays, reveal how a grand vision of American liberalism has collided with reality now that Metro has hit middle age."

Crain's Chicago Business: What will happen if Illinois doesn't hike the gas tax
Joe Cahill writes that transportation infrastructure is one of Illinois' strongest assets, and one the state isn't putting enough resources into. The Metropolitan Planning Council recently called for a 30 cent per gallon increase in the gas tax and a 50 percent hike in vehicle registration fees in order to pay for $43 billion in much-needed repairs. The stakes are high: "World-class transportation is essential to every business competing in a global marketplace. Companies won't tolerate delays and unnecessary costs getting goods to customers. They'll gravitate to states with reliable, inexpensive transit systems. States with lousy infrastructure will lose investment and jobs."

Quartz: A fleet of trucks just drove themselves across Europe
Not a US story, but as American cities continue considering (at the federal government's behest) how they can better integrate self-driving cars into their transportation infrastructure, it's important to consider how this technology can benefit other aspects of our transportation system. Self-driving trucks could potentially revolutionize our freight networks, as these trucks can drive closer to one another than human-driven trucks, reducing congestion and emissions while improving traffic safety:

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Transportation News Round-Up: April 2, 2016

Photo courtesy of Bloomberg News.
This week in transportation, California's high-speed rail project once again came under scrutiny, DC Metro might shut down an entire rail line, and traffic lights took a step towards irrelevance. Here are the most important and interesting transportation stories from the past week:

The Atlantic: A departure from decades of highway policy
This is an interesting article that delves into the upbringing of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx under the shadow of an urban freeway - the kind that, in too many cities, were built through low-income neighborhoods and severely depressed development in those areas for decades - and how this shaped his priorities as Secretary.

Fresno Bee: High-speed rail money risks come under Assembly scrutiny
At a hearing on the California High-Speed Rail Authority's new plan to shift its initial construction focus north while saving $10 billion in the short run, state lawmakers questioned how the agency will come up with what remains of the project's $64 billion price tag. They also blasted the agency for a lack of transparency, as some lawmakers representing southern areas felt blindsided by the agency's sudden change of plans.

Boston Globe: Bye-bye traffic lights
MIT's Senseable City Lab envisions a future where autonomous vehicles can communicate with one another in such a way as to eliminate the need for traffic lights. Instead of one direction of traffic coming to a complete standstill while others move, the cars will regulate their own speeds vis-a-vis one another's, speeding up or slowing down so that they arrive at the intersection at the perfect time to move through it. The video model is pretty hypnotic:

Washington Post: Metro could shut down entire rail lines to do extended maintenance, board chair says
Just two weeks after Metro shut down for an entire day so it could make much-needed safety inspections, General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld admitted it might be necessary to shut down an entire line for up to six months so that all of the line's needed repair work could take place uninterrupted. We don't have any details yet, but with everything that has gone wrong with Metro over the past months and years, it might be necessary. The Post's unscientific reader's poll shows 65% support for the idea, but it's worth noting that the type of people who are most likely to read the Post and participate in the poll are also the people most likely to have access to a car or telecommuting options.

Wall Street Journal: Logistics executives see shipping hub potential in Cuba
Coinciding with President Obama's visit to Cuba last month, officials from 18 freight logistics companies also visited the country and found that Port of Mariel could be an ideal location for cross-docking cargo from megaships to smaller vessels headed for American ports. Many of America's ports aren't equipped to handle these gigantic "post-panamax" ships, and Cuba could play a role in helping to smooth the transition.

Happy reading, and happy weekend!