Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
January 28, 2015

Posts in "Autos"

January 27, 2015

CBO Reminder To Congress: Infrastructure Funding 101

House Speaker John A. Boehner has repeatedly rebuffed the idea of a fuels tax increase (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Speaker John A. Boehner has repeatedly rebuffed the idea of a fuels tax increase (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

In its annual budget and economic forecast Monday the Congressional Budget Office reminded members of Congress of some of the basics that set the bounds of the infrastructure debate:

  • While federal spending on highways and mass transit has been running at about $53 billion a year in recent years, “annual receipts from highway taxes, which are largely dedicated to the Highway Trust Fund, are projected to stay at $38 billion or $39 billion each year between 2015 and 2025….” Thus the shortfall is about $14 billion a year.
  • CBO predicts that over the long term gasoline consumption will decline, as vehicles’ fuel economy improves. This will “more than offset increases in the number of miles that people drive stemming from both population increases and real income gains per person.”
  • But just for this year, the drop in gasoline prices (down nearly 40 percent from this same point last year) will cause drivers to drive more miles, so CBO projects that “gasoline use and tax revenues will be roughly in line with last year’s figures….”
  • CBO predicts that oil prices will rise again later this year – a forecast which some private-sector economists and investors don’t agree with at all.

Full story

As Blizzard Hits, Cuomo Bans Travel

Men delivering packages struggle in blowing snow in Manhattan's financial district on Monday as the city braced itself for a blizzard. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Men delivering packages struggle in blowing snow in Manhattan’s financial district on Monday as the city braced itself for a blizzard. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A massive nor’easter was hitting New York, New Jersey, and New England Monday night and Tuesday. That means that mass transit and the highways, at least in the New York City area, were closed, as of 11pm Monday.

In a press briefing late Monday afternoon, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat just elected to his second term, said he’d ordered commuter railroad and subway service to stop at 11pm Monday to allow train cars to be moved to safe storage locations “so that when the weather does leave we’re in a position for the system to start back up.”

He said the city and state had learned from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 that it was far better to protect subway and commuter trains so that service could be resumed as quickly as possible.

He also ordered a travel ban on highways and roads in a 13-county area, including the five boroughs of New York City, except for emergency vehicles.

“If you violate this state order it’s a possible misdemeanor; it’s fines up to $300,” he told a press conference.

Full story

January 16, 2015

A Look Back At Our Week: It’s Just Congestion All Over

Traffic jam in Mill Valley, Calif., this one caused by rain and flooding. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Traffic jam in Mill Valley, Calif., this one caused by rain and flooding. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Congestion. Transportation planners spend their lives analyzing it and trying to devise ways to relieve it.

Especially with lots of transportation wonks in Washington this week for the 94th annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, we heard much expert discussion about congestion on the highways, in our cities, and at our seaports.

On the highways, HNTB’s congestion pricing guru Matthew Click gave us his thoughts on why the San Francisco Bay area is the most interesting place in country in 2015 to watch for development of toll lanes.

Once you exit the highway and arrive in the big city, you may face the question: where can I find a place to park?

We heard from urban planners at the TRB meeting who find that, in fact, parking is much over-supplied in many cities. Maybe not in midtown Manhattan at high noon on a weekday, but in small and mid-sized cities.

Full story

January 14, 2015

Planners Seek To ‘Get Prices Right’ On Parking

San Francisco parking meter. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

San Francisco parking meter. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Transportation analysts spend a lot of time talking about what they call “getting prices right.”

They see some transportation assets (un-tolled highways, for example) as underpriced and over-used.

They see other assets people consider “free” (the space in airplanes’ overhead luggage bins, for instance) which should be priced in order to produce revenue and reveal their true cost.

Underpriced assets lead to what economists call “negative externalities” – overuse, congestion, pollution, and other costs which users impose on society without being made to fully pay for those costs.

(The head of the International Energy Agency sounded a similar note last July by suggesting to Americans that their gasoline prices were too low and “may be encouraging wasteful consumption.”)

So too with urban parking, a topic transportation analysts took on at the Transportation Research Board annual meeting Tuesday.

Full story

Would You Sell Your ‘Tradable Driving Rights’?

Drivers and pedestrians in Manhattan last fall.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Drivers and pedestrians in Manhattan last fall. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Imagine you live in Manhattan 30 years from now, and as a resident of that island, you own something very valuable which you could sell to your hard-pressed fellow residents: the right to drive.

In this scenario, you and your fellow Manhattanites live under a government-imposed limit on how many miles you can drive.

(Don’t confuse this with the plot of the 1981 Isaac Hayes cult classic Escape from New York, in which Manhattan has become the only maximum security prison for the entire country.)

If you don’t choose to drive, you could sell your driving rights to another Manhattanite who wants to drive. Both of you end up better off and the total number of miles driven remains under the limit.

Full story

January 13, 2015

Cell Phone Signals Offer Massive Trove of Travel Data

Travelers on the New York City subway, many of whom are transmitting data about their travel patterns. (Photo credit should read Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

Travelers on the New York City subway, many of whom are transmitting data about their travel patterns. (Photo credit should read Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

Every hour of every day cell phones are generating data which transportation planners, real estate developers, and investors use to help them to understand traffic flows, shopping patterns, and population shifts.

An Atlanta-based company, AirSage, collects real-time data (15 billion data points every day) from cell phone tower interactions – whenever a person sends a text, makes a phone call, or when a phone is searching for the next cell phone tower.

AirSage was one of the exhibitors at the annual Transportation Research Board meeting in Washington this week.

The company draws the data, which come from more than 100 million mobile devices, from two of the top three cell phone providers. The data cover more than a third of the U.S. population.

Full story

January 12, 2015

Looking Into The Future On Electric Vehicle Adoption

An electric vehicle charging station near the San Francisco city hall.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

An electric vehicle charging station near the San Francisco city hall. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

With gasoline now below $2 a gallon in many parts of the country, it might not seem like the most urgent priority to consider electric vehicles.

But the analysts who spoke at Monday’s panel on electric cars at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board were looking not primarily at today but 30 and 40 years into the future.

Major takeaways from the panelists:

  • One baseline scenario is the electric vehicles won’t be more than five percent of vehicles on the road, unless there are big decreases in the cost of batteries and much higher oil prices than the Energy Information Administration forecast for the next few decades.

Using a systems dynamics model, Dawn Manley of the Sandia National Laboratories tested a number of scenarios, including one that was very favorable to electric vehicle adoption by consumers.

“What if batteries were nearly free out into the future, 25 or 30 years from now? What if people who were willing to pay [a higher price for an electric car] had a longer payback period that they were willing to consider?”

The typical consumer is willing to wait three years to recover the higher cost of a higher-priced alternative technology. What if they were willing to consider a nine-year payback period?” And what if oil prices were much higher than they are today or under EIA projections? Then market penetration could reach 20 percent.

  • Support for home recharging should take priority over workplace charging and building more public recharging stations, according to Jonn Axsen, a researcher at the Energy and Materials Research Group at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.

Market failures have locked drivers into a fossil fuel-based infrastructure, said Axsen. “We need a strong climate policy” which should include a carbon tax to stimulate innovation on batteries and recharging facilities, for example.

  • For the most cost-effective deployment of public recharging stations, “it’s all about finding the hot spots,” said John Smart of the Idaho National Laboratory, that is specific locations where vehicle ownership supports big demand, places like the San Francisco Airport and the Fred Meyer store in Kirkland, Wash.

Most of the electric vehicle recharging infrastructure that was built with money from the 2009 stimulus act was not used, but the data gathered from those projects can be used to identify and perhaps predict where the demand for public recharging stations will be, Smart said.

  • On the coldest days of the year, today’s electric vehicles suffer more than a 40 percent decrease in their range, said Tugce Yuksel of Carnegie Mellon University.

That decrease in battery performance and range may limit the customer interest in buying electric vehicles in colder weather states, such as those in the Upper Midwest and Upper Plains states.

And as it currently stands, electric vehicle sales are highest in states with milder winters in their urban areas such as Washington state and California.

According to Yuksel, a round trip in an electric vehicle from Washington to Baltimore and back could be done in an electric vehicle, but on a very cold day the driver would need to stop and re-charge on his return trip from Baltimore, adding up to two hours to the total duration of the trip.

The Week Ahead: Annual Gathering Of The Policy Wonks

A worker makes repairs to a pedestrian walkway and bike path near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. One topic at TRB anual meeting: how states can pay for transportation projects. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A worker makes repairs to a pedestrian walkway and bike path near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. One topic at TRB anual meeting: how states can pay for transportation projects. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The week’s marquee event in Washington is the 94th annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, a five-day extravaganza of panel discussions, research presentations, and speeches by government officials, corporate leaders, and academic and think tank experts.

On the are nearly 750 workshops and sessions, on topics ranging from “Self-heating Electrically Conducting Concrete for Pavement De-Icing” to “Understanding the Gender Gap in Urban Biking.”

Monday

At the TRB meeting, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will forecast the year ahead for transportation and also discuss opportunities and challenges facing America’s transportation network over the next thirty years.

Also on Monday’s TRB agenda is a presentation from Timothy Butters, acting head the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Scott Darling, acting head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and other transportation officials who will explain how they go about the federal rule-making process for various modes of transportation.

Tuesday

At the TRB annual meeting, National Transportation Safety Board Acting Chairman Christopher Hart and his colleagues unveil the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements for 2015.

Last year’s NTSB list included banning the use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices by anyone while driving a car or a truck, or while piloting a plane, a ship, or a train.

Tuesday’s TRB meeting features a session with state transportation department chiefs on steps they are taking to fund major capital projects in light of the continued uncertainty of federal funding. Featured speakers include Anthony Tata of North Carolina, Charles Zelle of Minnesota, and Joan McDonald of New York.

Thursday and Friday

As the TRB meeting continues, the World Bank is staging its own transportation event, Transforming Transportation: Smart Cities for Shared Prosperity. It features policy makers and experts from several countries including a panel discussion on The Role of Technology in Fostering Sustainable Mobility and Inclusive Growth, with Robin Chase, Founder of Zipcar, and others.

Friday Q&A: Haystack Founder Eric Meyer, Part Two

Do you think the critics of Haystack are getting caught up in a theoretical argument about whether the parking space is a public or private space, rather than focusing on the facilitation of parking and reduction of congestion and pollution?

Parking is a public asset, but one so mismanaged that it benefits almost nobody. If Haystack can help make this public asset more efficient, then that’s a good thing for drivers, for the community and for the city as a whole.

Is Haystack still operating in Baltimore? If so, is it profitable?

We have paused our service in all cities following several roadblocks in cities critical to our model.

If cities aren’t willing to let Haystack facilitate use of parking spaces, could you or some other company purchase on-street parking spaces and then facilitate use of them?

In other words, make public space into a private space and then monetize its use. Or would the policing of that be too difficult?

It is an interesting idea; this is essentially the model that ZipCar uses, and it benefits neighbors, drivers and the city as a whole.  Bringing cities on board with this plan, given our many conversations across the country, would likely be an uphill battle.  It’s a shame more cities aren’t as progressive. Technology is a powerful tool that should be celebrated, not shunned.

January 9, 2015

Reid Touts 2009 ‘Cash For Clunkers’ Program

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, in a photo from last May. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, in a photo from last May. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid on Friday gave a plug for the 2009 “cash for clunkers” program, arguing that it had helped revive a faltering economy.

“Think where the economy would be if we didn’t have programs like cash for clunkers,” Reid said.

“And what about the bailout of Detroit [auto makers]? Our automobile industry was going down, down, down. Now since that time, hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created. And the Republicans opposed all those measures.”

Full story

Cole Suggests Replacing, Not Raising, Gas Tax

Rep. Tom Cole, R- Okla., who has just been elected to his seventh term (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Tom Cole, R- Okla., who has just been elected to his seventh term (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Capping a week in which some Republicans, most notably Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, indicated an openness to a possible increase in the gasoline tax, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said Friday that raising the gasoline tax isn’t what Congress should do to raise revenue for infrastructure.

Asked on C-Span’s Washington Journal whether low gasoline prices – at their lowest levels in four years – make it easier now to pass a gasoline tax increase, Cole replied, “Most of my constituents would say, ‘Don’t take away the benefits of lower prices.’”

Full story

Friday Q&A: Haystack Founder Eric Meyer, Part One

Eric Meyer of Haystack, second from left, at an Oct. 21 Washington Post panel discussion on transportation technology (Photo courtesy of Eric Meyer)

Eric Meyer of Haystack, second from left, at an Oct. 21 Washington Post panel discussion on transportation technology (Photo courtesy of Eric Meyer)

The Haystack app was designed to allow city drivers to hand off an on-street parking spot they were just leaving to another nearby driver who was looking for a space.

But the company, which collected a small fee for enabling each handoff, has halted the app after opposition from Boston officials. Here’s our conversation with Haystack founder Eric Meyer.

Last November, you told the Baltimore Sun that “going around the country and teaching city governments how to embrace new transportation technology isn’t a sustainable business model.” Can you explain why it isn’t a sustainable business model?

If cities are engaging in preemptive bans and legislating based on hypothesis and entrenched interests, it is difficult for our technology and similar crowd-sourced solutions to generate a user-base while facing fines upwards of $250 per use on consumers and our company alike.

Full story

New NHTSA Chief Wants Bigger Penalties

Mark Rosekind just took over as head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Mark Rosekind just took over as head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

On Thursday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that Honda will pay a total of $70 million in civil penalties for failing to report deaths, injuries, and certain warranty claims to the federal government. In a consent order, the Japanese carmaker also agreed to increased NHTSA oversight and third party audits.

As my colleague David Harrison reported ($), NHTSA’s new chief Mark Rosekind also urged Congress raise the maximum penalty for each violation of a 2000 safety law from $35 million per incident to $300 million.

January 6, 2015

Do Cheap Gas, Brisk Car Sales Mean More Miles Driven?

Nissan caes for sale in Fairfax, Va. last month  (Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Nissan caes for sale in Fairfax, Va. last month (Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Correlation isn’t causation, but it may be significant for transportation policy makers that falling gasoline prices have coincided with robust sales for new cars and light trucks.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said Monday that the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline was $1.11 a gallon less than a year ago at this point.

In Toledo, Ohio on Monday, to cite one example, you could buy gasoline for as little as $1.54 a gallon.

Full story

January 5, 2015

The Week Ahead: Taking Oaths, Breaking Ground

This week features the ceremony of new members of Congress taking their oaths of office, the ground-breaking for high-speed rail in California’s Central Valley, and a couple of nerdy events in the run-up to next week’s annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board.

Tuesday

At the Capitol, members of Congress are sworn in. The new members have had their Kennedy School crash courses in how Congress really works, they’ve rented their apartments, they’ve hired their staffs, and now it’s time to legislate or, at least, to orate.

Meanwhile across the country in Fresno, Calif., officials will hold their ground-breaking ceremony for the state’s ambitious high-speed rail project which aims by 2029 to connect San Francisco to the Los Angeles basin in under three hours.

Even if you don’t live in California, you have a financial stake in this: the first segment of the project from Madera to Bakersfield will cost $6 billion, with $3.3 billion in federal funds.

Thursday

Transportation Techies, who describe themselves as “programmers who love visualizing open data from transportation systems,” will meet for “Autotopia Night” in Arlington, Va. to hear from software developers working to make commuting and parking easier. Among those on the program: Haystack’s Eric Meyer will explain his app that connects drivers willing to exchange parking spots.

Saturday

The Fourth Annual TransportationCamp DC gathers at George Mason University in Arlington, Va. It bills itself as an “unconference” where data analysts, software experts, and transportation officials can exchange and critique ideas for making transportation more efficient.

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