Sunday, October 30, 2016

New report outlines 50 policies for carbon-free transportation

Frontier Group is out with a new report, "50 Steps toward Carbon-Free Transportation," which provides a series of policy recommendations for federal and state leaders to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector.

The organization brands America's transportation system as "Climate Enemy #1," as vehicle emissions are now the nation's largest source of carbon pollution, producing more pollution per capita than the transportation system of any other major industrialized nation.

The U.S. transportation system now emits more carbon than any other sector.
Graphic courtesy of the Frontier Group.

Urging the government to take swift action to reduce climate change-causing emissions, the Group outlines a "bold new vision for transportation policy" comprised of 50 policy reforms designed to curb carbon emissions from our transportation system.

The idea behind the report is that the "most effective strategies to fuel the transition to carbon-free transportation are likely to emerge at the local and regional levels," yet America's cities are constrained by state and federal policies that favor highway expansion and single-occupancy vehicles at the expense of shared mobility and dense, walkable neighborhoods. Most of the policies, therefore, are aimed at creating the right regulatory environment at the federal and state level for our cities to innovate in this area. Others are designed to make it easier for cities and their transit systems to access funding streams, while others still would reform the tax code to incentivize the right behaviors (e.g. ending sales tax exemptions for motor fuels, while reducing taxes on car sharing).

You can read all 50 policy recommendations in the report, but they all fall into the following categories:

  • Make addressing global warming a strategic goal;
  • Stop doing harm;
  • Reform the transportation bureaucracy and policy infrastructure;
  • Get the most out of what we have;
  • Reward low-carbon travel decisions;
  • Level the playing field for shared mobility;
  • Harness the power of markets;
  • Speed the introduction of low-carbon vehicles;
  • Speed the introduction of low-carbon fuels;
  • Align transportation and land-use objectives to support climate-friendly communities;
  • Support and guide innovation;
  • Serve everyone;
  • Collect and share data; and
  • Reform outdated institutional structures.
The nexus between transportation and environmental policy will likely continue to be an important one in the months and years ahead, particularly as Congress comes closer to working on a major infrastructure bill. The Frontier Group's new report provides important recommendations for how federal and state governments can curb carbon emissions by spelling out specific policies that will prioritize low-carbon transportation, incentivize the use of low-carbon technologies, and help America's cities innovate.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

On Infrastructure, Clinton and Trump Find Common Ground

Photo courtesy of Reuters.

In an election year during which it certainly seems there is more that divides us than unites us, it's important to note that there is at least one issue on which the two major party candidates agree: the need to invest more in our infrastructure.

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have spoken of the importance of repairing and maintaining our transportation infrastructure. Clinton has proposed a five-year, $275-billion federal infrastructure program to put Americans to work improving our highways, airports, and maritime ports. $250 billion of that will go to direct public investment, while the remaining $25 billion will prop up a national infrastructure bank to leverage those funds for additional, private funding in the form of direct loans, loan guarantees, and other credit enhancement.

Clinton, her campaign writes, would "fully [pay] for these investments through business tax reform." While this isn't very specific, that might be intentional: Republican leadership in Congress has signaled a willingness to use tax reform to finance more infrastructure spending, and getting too specific on the details now could give them something to say 'no' to before she's even in office. If they agree on principle that our tax code should be reformed, and that corporate tax reform could be used to generate new revenue for our transportation infrastructure programs, then that's a good enough place to start.

Trump, for his part, has said he would "double" Clinton's $275-billion figure and would spend up to $1 trillion on infrastructure. He hasn't in any of his speeches gotten more specific than that - in terms of what exactly the money would be spent on or where he would get it from, given his desire to cut taxes - and in fact I've had trouble finding any specifics on his website, as well. He's written about taxes, trade, and regulation, but not about this.

Which is a bit of a surprise: as a businessman who runs a very large company, he obviously understands the importance of well-maintained infrastructure to keeping our economy running smoothly (which, as a side note, was why I was surprised when former HP CEO Carly Fiorina disagreed on that point during one of the Republican primary debates).

So there's agreement here, but varying levels of specificity. I'm sure it surprises no one that Clinton's plan has more thought behind it, but the very fact that both candidates agree on something is somewhat noteworthy in this political climate.

Business groups aren't leaving anything to chance, though: several groups - including the American Trucking Association, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce - penned a letter to Clinton and Trump urging them to prioritize the long-term sustainability of the Highway Trust Fund. They wrote in part, "We believe that an infrastructure package needs to include, as a foundation, additional sustainable revenue to ensure the permanent solvency of the Highway Trust Fund. The additional revenue sources must be long-term, reliable, dedicated and focused on the users and beneficiaries of our transportation network to support the increased investment provided under your infrastructure proposal."

There is, of course, good reason for Democrats and Republicans alike to come together around the idea of more federal spending on infrastructure: according to the Council of Economic Advisors, each investment of $1 billion in infrastructure leads to the creation of 13,000 jobs, and each dollar invested leads to a return of $1.60 in GDP growth the following year. It's good policy.

And it's popular, too: a recent poll from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers finds that nearly half of Americans think our transportation infrastructure has deteriorated in the past five years, and 70 percent believe investing in its repair will help stimulate the economy.

Regardless of these facts, it is safe to say that our infrastructure problems will continue to plague us in the near-term regardless of the outcome of this election: according to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, spending on infrastructure by states and localities relative to GDP is at a thirty-year low. And despite the obvious urgent need to repair, Congress has repeatedly stiff-armed President Barack Obama in his attempts to pass infrastructure financing legislation.

Perhaps this partisanship will prevail; or, perhaps this election, with two nominees who agree at least on what the problem is, can act as a reset button to get Congress and the White House working together again on this issue.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Transportation News Round-Up: October 22, 2016

Image courtesy of California High-Speed Rail Authority
This week in transportation, the DOT released new airline guidelines, the California governor scrambled to save his infrastructure legacy, and a proposed commuter rail line in Texas got voted down. Here are the most important and interesting transportation stories from the past week:

Journal of Commerce: Trump and Clinton agree on freight infrastructure and trade - if rhetoric is true
Journal of Commerce associate editor Reynolds Hutchins writes that "the 2016 presidential election has been fraught with divisive discourse and reality television-style drama, but the top two leading candidates appear to actually agree when it comes to matters of transportation infrastructure and trade... Both acknowledge that the nation’s crumbling infrastructure is in desperate need of a billion-dollar booster shot. The two have also been critical of trade deals that stand to significantly impact the cost of moving goods and break down or build regulatory barriers for shippers and logistics providers."

Skift: 6 highlights from the DOT's new passenger-friendly airline guidelines
The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced new rules to make flying more consumer-friendly. Once the guidelines are implemented, airlines will share more operational data (such as percent of on-time flights) and information on mishandled bags and wheelchairs, booking websites will be more upfront about their display biases, and flyers will have baggage fees refunded if its mishandled (not just lost).

The Hill: Dem senator praises US steel after car crash
The Hill reports via Cleveland.com (which posted the original article to Facebook during the major DDoS attack yesterday) that "Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and a staffer were treated for minor injuries Thursday afternoon after a car crash in a Cleveland suburb... Brown, ranking Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee and one of the Senate's most ardent progressives, praised American manufacturing and government regulations for keeping him safe."

Mercury News: Jerry Brown, allies spend millions to kill measure that could doom high speed rail, Delta tunnels projects
The Mercury News writes, "With less than three weeks until Election Day, Gov. Jerry Brown and his political allies are suddenly pumping money into the campaign to defeat Proposition 53, a previously low-profile measure that could be the death knell of Brown’s high-speed rail and Delta tunnels projects... If passed, Proposition 53 would require a statewide vote to approve any state project costing more than $2 billion that is financed with revenue bonds, which are the likely method of paying many of the costs for high-speed rail and the Delta tunnels."

Austin American-Statesman: Lone Star Rail officially dead after final CAMPO vote
The Austin American-Statesman reports, " The board of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, after a discussion lasting perhaps five minutes Monday evening, took a voice vote removing from its long-range transportation plan the proposed commuter rail line from San Antonio to Georgetown... Conceding that passenger rail in the rapidly growing corridor might someday make sense, the board later discussed using some or all of $9 million in leftover money from the project for a study to explore other possible transportation options along that corridor," such as a managed toll lane, increased Amtrak service along the Union-Pacific freight corridor, or some version of high-speed rail.

Happy reading, and happy weekend!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Transportation News Round-Up: October 15, 2016

Photo courtesy of  the NTSB.
This week in transportation, transportation groups urged the presidential candidates to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent, New Jersey lawmakers agreed to raise the gas tax, and DC Metro revealed proposals for filling its budget gap. Here are the week's most important and interesting transportation stories:

Transportation Topics: Transportation groups urge Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump to ensure long-term highway funding
Several groups - including the American Trucking Association, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce - penned a letter to the two major presidential nominees urging them to prioritize the long-term sustainability of the Highway Trust Fund. They wrote, "We believe that an infrastructure package needs to include, as a foundation, additional sustainable revenue to ensure the permanent solvency of the Highway Trust Fund. The additional revenue sources must be long-term, reliable, dedicated and focused on the users and beneficiaries of our transportation network to support the increased investment provided under your infrastructure proposal."

CBS News: Is your state next to raise its gas tax?
As cars become more fuel-efficient and the gas tax becomes less adequate for financing road maintenance, several states have considered raising the gas tax rate to make up the difference. CBS News reports, "New Jersey is poised to become the 19th state since 2013 to raise or reform its gasoline tax if, as expected, Republican Governor Chris Christie approves the just-approved 23-cent hike. More than a dozen states have considered similar moves over the past few months as they scramble to fix their crumbling transportation infrastructure."

The National Transportation Safety Board has released its preliminary report following a NJ Transit train accelerating into a station and injuring over 100 commuters. The Post reports, "The release of the report this week comes as troubling new details have begun to emerge about the transit agency’s safety record. According to a report by the Associated Press, NJ Transit has had more accidents and paid more fines for safety violations than any other commuter rail system in the U.S. AP’s analysis also found that between January 2011 and July 2016, human behavior was a factor in 57 percent of NJ Transit’s accidents."

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has pushed back a decision on consultants to design a train station in downtown Fresno, even as the city continues developing a master plan for the downtown area surrounding the station. The Bee writes, "The agency’s board, at its meeting Tuesday in Sacramento, had been slated to consider issuing a request for qualifications from architectural and engineering firms to compete for a six-year contract for up to $11 million to the winning team later this year. But the issue was removed from the agenda because 'some board members have questions and (our) staff will work with them to further elucidate on them,' board chairman Dan Richard said."

DC Metro is facing fare hikes, service cuts, and staffing reductions in response to a large budget gap due to increasing maintenance costs and decreasing ridership resulting in lower revenues. WAMU reports, "Under the category of 'extreme options,' fares would increase by 35 percent across all modes (rail, bus, paratransit), and service would be reduced by 20 to 25 percent... The 'extreme options' are meant to illustrate the severity of Metro’s yawning operating budget deficit, exacerbated by plummeting ridership and rising labor costs."

Happy reading, and happy weekend!