Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 27, 2015

Posts in "Autos"

March 24, 2015

Trucking Industry Sues Oregon Over Fuel Law

The trucking industry is trying to block Oregon's lower carbon fuel standards. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The trucking industry is trying to block Oregon’s lower carbon fuel standards. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Oregon’s new governor Kate Brown two weeks ago signed into a law a bill requiring distributors to reduce the carbon “intensity” of vehicle fuel by 10 percent over the next decade.

Now the American Trucking Associations has joined with the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers and the Consumer Energy Alliance in suing Oregon to block the fuel standards.

“The Oregon program is set up to give a big boost to Oregon’s small biofuel industry, without reducing net greenhouse gas emissions, and at the expense of higher fuel costs for everyone,” said ATA Vice President for Energy and Environmental Affairs Glen Kedzie. “Unfortunately for Oregon, the Constitution doesn’t allow states to set up these kinds of trade barriers in order to promote in-state businesses, nor does it allow Oregon to regulate how fuel is produced in other states.”

The trucking group contends that the Oregon law will hurt out-of-state refiners and producers and thus violate the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.

Brown said she signed the bill because it will help counteract “the effects of a warming planet. This year, 85 percent of our state is experiencing drought, with 33 percent experiencing extreme drought.”

She noted that her state’s Pacific Coast neighbors, California, Washington, and British Columbia, have launched their own lower carbon emissions programs, “which will shape the West Coast market,” and therefore “it is imperative not only that Oregon does its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also that we build a program that meets the needs of Oregonians.”

Brown, a Democrat who had been serving as Oregon’s secretary of state, became governor last month when Gov. John Kitzhaber, also a Democrat, resigned amid federal and state investigations into potential conflicts of interest and influence peddling involving his fiancée, green energy consultant Cylvia Hayes.

Oregon House Minority Leader Mike McLane, a Republican, insinuated during the final House debate on the bill that it might have been improperly influenced by Hayes. “We need to know who influenced who, and was that influence improper or illegal,” he said.

March 19, 2015

Will Musk Have The Antidote To ‘Range Anxiety’?

Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO of Tesla Motors.  (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO of Tesla Motors. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Elon Musk, chief executive officer of electric car maker Tesla, will announce at a press conference Thursday plans that he has “to end range anxiety,” as he put it on Twitter Tuesday.

The lack of recharging stations makes electric car drivers fret that they may not make it to their destination, a topic discussed at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board in January.

On the coldest days of the year, electric vehicles suffer a more than 40 percent decrease in their range, according to one researcher at Carnegie Mellon University. That may limit the interest in buying electric vehicles in colder weather states.

Musk also caused a flurry of comment this week with his prediction that “when self-driving cars become safer than human-driven cars, the public may outlaw the latter.”

He added, “Hopefully not.”

His speculation about autonomous vehicles wasn’t original. Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute made much the same observation last year.

 

February 27, 2015

Week In Review: Ports Recovery And Protectionism

A container ship sits docked at the Port of Oakland on Feb. 17, 2015 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A container ship sits docked at the Port of Oakland on Feb. 17, 2015 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

This week the 29 West Coast ports began their recovery from a damaging nine-month labor dispute that led to work slowdowns. Container ships lined up off shore as they waited to dock and unload their containers.

We looked at the need for the ports to regain the trust – and patronage—of shippers, some of whom have diverted ships to East Coast, Mexican, and Canadian ports.

The theme of protectionism ran through a couple of stories this week, with our look at the Buy America requirement for infrastructure projects – even for components as small of four-inch steel valves on a the Kosciuszko Bridge project in New York City.

(Kosciuszko, by the way, was a Polish military officer and engineer who designed fortifications along the Hudson River and helped the colonies win their independence.)

Full story

February 26, 2015

More Than 2,000 Pedestrians Killed In First Half of 2014

Police investigate a truck crash in New York City's financial district on Aug. 23, 2012 in which a pedestrian was killed. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Police investigate a truck crash in New York City’s financial district on Aug. 23, 2012 in which a pedestrian was killed. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

There were 2,082 pedestrians killed by cars and trucks in the United States in the first half of last year, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reported Thursday , which was a 2.8 percent decrease from the same period in 2013 and part of a long-term trend in road safety.

Since 2000, the number of U.S. pedestrians killed by vehicles each year has ranged from about 4,100 to about 4,900.

The GHSA report said Delaware and Florida had the highest rates of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people in the first half of 2014.

Full story

February 25, 2015

How Oregon’s Pioneering Road Usage Fee Will Work

Mount Hood in Oregon (Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images)

Mount Hood in Oregon (Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images)

Jim Whitty is the evangelist for Oregon’s pioneering road user fee pilot program which begins on July 1.

Other states are watching how Whitty and Oregon conduct a 5,000-vehicle pilot program in which volunteers will pay a road usage charge of 1.5 cents per mile for the number of miles they drive, instead of the fuel tax. Drivers will get a credit on their bill to offset the fuel tax they pay.

Whitty, manager of the Office of Innovative Partnerships & Alternative Funding for Oregon’s Department of Transportation, is a wry, self-deprecating salesman for the program.

Full story

February 24, 2015

Vendors Look To Reap Revenues From User Fee System

Traffic in Los Angeles: a future revenue source for data vendors? (Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

Traffic in Los Angeles: a future revenue source for data vendors? (Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

The shift from the gasoline tax to mileage-based user fees which Oregon is launching this year, which California will be testing in 2017, and which other states may follow isn’t just a way for states to pay for transportation infrastructure, it’s a business opportunity for vendors such as Verizon Telematics and Sanef.

Telematics, data collection, and information technology companies envision a world in which, if drivers agree to turn over their driving data to the vendor, they get the benefits of:

  • usage-based insurance (which could give more precise evidence of one’s safety as a driver than current insurance systems);
  • remote vehicle diagnostics;
  • emissions reporting (without having to go into a state emissions station for onsite testing);
  • monitoring of teenage drivers in your family to make sure they aren’t going 95 miles per hour down the interstate highway.

Oregon’s pilot program involves only 5,000 vehicles and has three vendors running it. The state now is subsidizing those vendors.

Full story

Blumenauer: Replace Gas Tax With Road Usage Charge

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D- Ore. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call)

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D- Ore. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call)

Speaking to the second annual conference of the Mileage-Based User Fee Alliance on Tuesday, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D – Ore., pitched the idea of pairing an increase in the gasoline tax with a pilot program to support state experiments in taxing drivers by how many miles they drive.

Oregon is launching a voluntary mileage-based fee program in July.

Blumenauer proposes a gas tax increase of 15 cents a gallon, phased in over three years and indexed to the Consumer Price Index. This “can be the last time Congress ever has to act to raise the gas tax. And then I want to get rid of the gas tax, because it doesn’t work over the long haul.”

Alluding to Oregon being the first state to impose a tax on gasoline in 1919 and the state’s current experiment with a mileage-based fee (also known as a vehicle-miles-traveled tax, or a road usage charge), Blumenauer added, “for ten years the state that gave you the gas tax has been piloting projects to show how you can get rid of it.”

Full story

February 23, 2015

Week Ahead: Tolling, Flight Tracking, Energy Shipping

Sen. James Inhofe, R- Okla., and Rep. Bill Shuster, R- Pa., will both address the AASHTO conference this week. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. James Inhofe, R- Okla., and Rep. Bill Shuster, R- Pa., will both address the AASHTO conference this week. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

It will be a busy week in Washington for transportation policy, with hearings, speeches, and panel discussions on everything from better tracking of airline flights to tolling on interstates.

Tuesday

The Mileage Based User Fee Alliance holds its second annual conference in Washington.

The Alliance includes state departments of transportation and contractors in the tolling business. Panelists will discuss such topics as California’s Road Usage Charge Pilot Program.

Full story

February 20, 2015

Unions, Governors Make A Transportation Weekend Of It

Rep. Peter King, R- N.Y. will be conferring with transportation union leaders this weekend (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Peter King, R- N.Y. will be conferring with transportation union leaders this weekend (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Trains and buses may be on a reduced weekend schedule but transportation events run at a brisk pace Saturday and Sunday.

In Atlanta, the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO holds its annual executive committee meeting with 32 member unions in Atlanta. The unions represent workers from airline pilots to light rail operators.

Labor leaders will confer with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx Saturday, and on Sunday Reps. Peter King, R-N.Y. and Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill. will meet with the union leaders.

Full story

Bertha Breaks Through, But Tunnel Date Unknown

In a week of some bad transportation news – a crippled mass transit system in snowbound Boston, cracked rails and delays on Washington’s Metro, an oil train derailment in West Virginia, and the unresolved West Coast ports dispute, here’s one bit of good news: Bertha is now closer to her rescue and repair.

In January we reported on Bertha, the $80 million, 7,000-ton tunnel-boring machine that was stuck 60 feet under Seattle’s waterfront.

Bertha had been digging a tunnel under the waterfront part of the city to replace the Alaskan Way viaduct, a major north-south artery which was damaged by the Nisqually earthquake in 2001.

But the giant machine got stuck in December of 2013 after the project manager reported that “unanticipated and increasing resistance was experienced” and crews discovered damage to the machine.

On Thursday, part of Bertha’s cutter head broke through a wall of an access pit that will eventually allow crews to take the machine apart and repair it.

“We don’t have an estimated repair cost yet.” Chris Dixon, project director for the Seattle Tunnel Partners told the Seattle Times.

And when Bertha will return to her job of boring the tunnel is also not yet known.

February 19, 2015

Devolution For Transportation A Long-Term Strategy

Rep. Lee Zeldin, R- N.Y. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Lee Zeldin, R- N.Y. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The conservative Heritage Foundation and its political arm Heritage Action want Congress to spend the money in the Highway Trust Fund on highways and not on subways, commuter trains, and other forms of mass transit.

Heritage transportation analyst Emily Goff said that current policy directs up to 20 percent of the money in the Highway Trust Fund to mass transit even though only 5 percent of commuters use mass transit. Most of the money that goes into the trust fund comes from gasoline and diesel taxes.

“How does the transit ride of someone in New York benefit someone who is a farmer in Montana who is using the roads?” she asked Wednesday at a Heritage briefing.

The think tank would like to devolve the federal transportation programs to the states. Goff said “letting the states who want to pursue transit do so” would result in better transit systems since states would design them to fit their needs and fund them themselves.

Full story

February 13, 2015

Thinking The Unthinkable About Mass Transit Funding

Rep. Garret Graves, R- La., a skeptic about using Highway Trust Fund money for mass transit. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Garret Graves, R- La., a skeptic about using Highway Trust Fund money for mass transit. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

At the height of the Cold War, defense analyst Herman Kahn wrote Thinking About the Unthinkable, a book which tried to inform readers about what would happen in a nuclear conflict.

When it comes to mass transit funding, “thinking about the unthinkable” is the idea that Congress might someday cut off money from the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) which has been spent on subways, bus systems, and other forms of mass transit since the 1980s.

Approximately 80 percent of HTF money is spent on highways and 20 percent on mass transit.

Most of the roughly $40 billion a year that goes into the trust fund comes from taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel paid by people who drive cars and trucks.

At a hearing Wednesday of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, some Republican members skeptically quizzed Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx about why HTF money must go to mass transit, and whether the funds would be better spent on highways.

On Thursday, American Public Transportation Association President Michael Melaniphy fired back.

“There has been bipartisan support for federal investment in public transportation through the federal gas tax since 1983 when, under President Reagan, fuels tax revenues were dedicated to public transportation through the Mass Transit Account of the surface transportation legislation,” he said.

Full story

‘Snow Farms’ Are A Real Estate Growth Sector In Boston

 An MBTA bus travels through Boston this week amid snow banks (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

An MBTA bus travels through Boston this week amid snow banks (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

You’ve heard of funny farms, fish farms, and fat farms. How about a “snow farm”?

So much snow has fallen in Massachusetts in the past several weeks that, according to the Boston Globe, Mayor Martin Walsh “had opened 10 new snow farms” to pile up snow that has been plowed and removed from the city’s streets.

Bostonians are girding for yet another snow storm this weekend.

Walsh is recommending that the city’s mass transit system, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), close on Saturday and Sunday because the National Weather Service is forecasting blizzard conditions, with up to 14 more inches of snow.

This week the head of the MTBA, Beverly Scott, resigned after heavy criticism of her agency over train service being suspended for more than 24 hours twice in the last two weeks.

A day before announcing her departure, Scott said, “We are running an extremely aged system that is getting a pounding every single day. What happened here, it would have taken anybody down.”

Pennsylvania is poised to help Massachusetts in the form of 18 plow and mechanic trucks, three backhoes, more than 20 plow operators and other personnel.

February 11, 2015

What Rules To Govern Uber-Type Services?

Uber, Sidecar and other app-enabled car services have dealt a blow to regulated taxi cab monopolies because they’re nimble and operate outside some of the established rules.

A Cato Institute panel on Tuesday debated what, if any, regulations cities should impose on Uber and similar car services.

Dean Baker, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said that the newer car services have forced taxis to become more efficient.

But he still sees a need for regulation of Uber and its peers.

Full story

February 9, 2015

Markey Wants A Driver Opt-Out Right On Data Use

Sen. Edward J. Markey, D- Mass. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Edward J. Markey, D- Mass. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Edward J. Markey, D- Mass. issued a report Monday that warned that drivers’ privacy is at risk from vehicles being able to transmit location and performance data.

Markey asked that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issue new standards, including giving drivers the right to “opt out of data collection and transfer of driver information to off-board storage.”

The Massachusetts Democrat argued that voluntary privacy principles adopted by the two major coalitions of automobile manufacturers don’t go far enough.

Full story

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