Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 21, 2014

Posts in "Commuting"

December 19, 2014

Most Encouraging News Of 2014, Part Two

92634233 445x293 Most Encouraging News Of 2014, Part Two

Encouraging news: BNSF’s $6 billion capital investment program (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Here’s our second selection of views from transportation advocates, analysts, and interest group representatives on the most encouraging or discouraging transportation developments of the past year….

 

“The Department of Transportation’s decision to move forward with vehicle-to-vehicle communication helps pave the way for the next generation of crash avoidance technology. The ability of vehicles to communicate with other vehicles and with the infrastructure around them is a promising step toward reducing the number of traffic and pedestrian fatalities, while also increasing the efficiency of our transportation system.”

Hilary Cain, director, Technology and Innovation Policy, Government and Industry Affairs, Toyota

Full story

December 18, 2014

The Most Encouraging Transportation News Of 2014

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A man walks to catch the street car on Canal Street in New Orleans. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

To give a retrospective of the past year’s events and trends in transportation, we’ve asked a range of analysts, trade association leaders, and advocates to tell us what they think was the most encouraging, or most discouraging, transportation development, trend, or event of 2014.

Here’s the first installment from our respondents…. (and our thanks to all of them!)

 

“The most encouraging transportation trend in 2014 was voter rejection of several light-rail and streetcar lines. Elections in Florida, Texas, and Virginia showed that voters remain skeptical of putting large amounts of money into transit projects that yield trivial benefits.”

Randal O’Toole, Senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Gridlock: Why We’re Stuck in Traffic and What to Do About It

Full story

December 17, 2014

Broken Water Main Highlights Infrastucture Weaknesses

construction 111402 445x288 Broken Water Main Highlights Infrastucture Weaknesses

Construction workers repairing roads in DC. (CQ Roll Call)

Metrorail service in the nation’s capital was delayed Tuesday morning after a water main burst near 12th and F streets NW in downtown D.C. Service on the Orange, Blue and Silver lines was suspended between the L’Enfant Plaza and Farragut West stops while crews worked to repair damage.

The incident was another reminder of how one infrastructure system’s problems can have a domino effect on others.

Full story

Public Transportation Use Up A Bit In Third Quarter

458761762 445x307 Public Transportation Use Up A Bit In Third Quarter

Commuters wait for the subway at the Fulton Center station in New York City (Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Public transportation ridership was up by 1.8 percent in the third quarter of the year, compared to the same period in 2013, the American Public Transportation Association reported Wednesday.

“High and volatile gas prices have played a part over the past nine years in convincing people to try public transportation,” said APTA President Michael Melaniphy. “Now that gas prices are declining, many people are still choosing to ride public transportation. They have discovered that there are other benefits to taking public transit besides saving money.”

More than 2.7 billion trips were taken on public transportation in the third quarter, according to the APTA report.

But Census Bureau data indicate that only five percent of all Americans who commute to work use public transportation.

Full story

December 15, 2014

High-Profile Toll Project Opens in D.C. Suburbs

One of the nation’s most prominent public-private toll road partnerships opened Sunday in Virginia with a Yuletide two-week free sample period before tolls begin on a 29-mile stretch of Interstate 95 south of Washington, D.C.

There’s been some backlash against highway tolling in Texas and other states, and a separate and highly contentious P3 project, U.S. 460 in the Hampton Roads area, has been halted by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Full story

The Week Ahead: FedEx Peak Day, Spending Bill Signed

107562647 445x289 The Week Ahead: FedEx Peak Day, Spending Bill Signed

A driver unloads his truck at the FedEx sort facility at the Oakland International Airport (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

This week includes what FedEx expects to be its busiest shipping day of the year, as well as the final act of this year’s spending bill melodrama, as President Obama puts his signature on a $1.1 trillion discretionary spending bill which includes a few plums for mass transit and the U.S. travel industry.

Monday

FedEx predicts that today will be its busiest shipping day of the year, estimating that its workers, trucks, and aircraft will carry 22.6 million shipments around the world.

FedEx rival UPS said in October that it expected its 2014 peak delivery day to be a week from today, on Monday, Dec. 22, when it expects to ship more than 34 million packages.

Tuesday

The Senate may vote on a House-passed bill to retroactively extend some 50 tax preferences.

The package includes a few provisions benefiting biodiesel and other biofuel producers and one which would restore tax break parity between mass transit commuters and drivers who get employer-subsidized parking.

Mass transit advocates say the retroactive parity, which applies only to 2014, will benefit almost no mass transit users, because employer payroll systems aren’t set up to recoup the money that commuters could have gotten if tax break parity had been in effect starting Jan 1, 2014.

Wednesday

FedEx reports its earnings for the second quarter of its fiscal year which began June 1.

Like the passenger airlines, FedEx should be benefiting from the drop in jet fuel and diesel fuel costs, and company executives can offer more details on that point in their conference call for investors Wednesday morning.

After languishing in the first half of the year, FedEx’s stock price is up 25 percent since June, which also is the period in which the price of oil has fallen more than 40 percent.

For the 2014 fiscal year which ended in May, FedEx spent $4.5 billion for fuel, both for its jet aircraft and its ground vehicles.

December 5, 2014

A Look Back At Our Week: Tax Break, Cargo Preference

458800648 445x301 A Look Back At Our Week: Tax Break, Cargo Preference

Commuters at the Times Square Subway stop in New York City. (Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Mass transit and van poll advocates have urged Congress to enact permanent tax break parity between those who get employer-provided parking benefits and those who use mass transit. That parity ended at the end of 2013.

Parity crusaders will need to wait until next year and try to persuade the new Congress.

  • We also heard from rail infrastructure advocates who want the new Congress to enact a dedicated source of funding.

To make their case, they point to the tangible achievements of President Obama’s $830 billion stimulus, such as the new Niantic River Bridge along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor in Connecticut.

  • Finding money for infrastructure, whether rail or highways or subways, is of course the seemingly permanent and inescapable problem, as a new report this week from the Eno Center for Transportation reminded us.

The report suggests that perhaps policymakers should simply decide that Congress is not going to increase the gasoline and diesel fuel taxes and should consider relying on general tax revenue to pay for infrastructure.

The current system “is really not working well… for anybody. So there’s a much greater reason to consider alternative to the user pays/Trust Fund structure at this point,” said Eno president Joshua Schank.

  • We reported on the confirmation hearing for Mark Rosekind, Obama’s choice to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. As the agency tries to cope with multiple auto and auto parts recalls, senators urged Rosekind to be bold in re-invigorating it.

“If you are not feared and respected, then you cannot do a good job policing the safety of automobiles in this country,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told Rosekind. “I don’t think that NHSTA is either feared or respected at this point.”

  • We also looked at the controversy over the cargo preference, which requires that a certain percentage of commodities purchased by the government be shipped in U.S.-flagged vessels. The cargo preference is designed to preserve U.S. merchant marine jobs and the U.S. shipping industry.
  • Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Sen. Bob Corker, R- Tenn., pledged to stop a House-passed Coast Guard bill which they say would in effect strengthen the cargo preference and make it more costly for the Agency for International Development to ship food to countries affected by famine or food shortages.

December 3, 2014

Eno Report: Consider Scrapping Trust Fund

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Chicago highway traffic (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Why not scrap the beleaguered Highway Trust Fund and the concept of dedicated user fees (gasoline taxes) going into it?

Instead, why not rely entirely on general tax revenues to pay for highways and mass transit?

That’s one possibility raised by a report issued Wednesday by the Eno Center for Transportation, a Washington think tank.

Full story

December 2, 2014

With Stimulus Visible, Rail Searches For New Funds

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President Obama speaks to the Recovery Act Implementation Conference on March 12, 2009 in Washington. (Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg-Pool/Getty Images)

Apart from the Affordable Care Act – whose fate has yet to be determined by the Supreme Court – and judicial appointments, perhaps the most durable and visible accomplishment of President Obama’s two terms will be long-lasting steel structures like the $154 million Niantic River Bridge project along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor in Connecticut.

It was finished in 2013 with $77 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding and $77 million in Amtrak capital funds. It replaced a bridge built in 1907.

Full story

Transit Tax Break Not The Real Deal, Advocates Say

160341708 445x296 Transit Tax Break Not The Real Deal, Advocates Say

Commuters wait for a subway at a Manhattan station in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The House Ways and Means Committee tax extenders bill unveiled Monday would give mass transit commuters tax break parity with drivers who get employer-provided parking benefits, but only for 2014.

The bill revives the tax break parity that expired at the end of 2013, but falls far short of what mass transit advocates really want.

Full story

November 25, 2014

Amtrak Narrows Loss As Northeast Service Thrives

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Amtrak passengers check train information at New York’s Penn Station. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Amtrak is still losing money, but the good news is that it lost less money in Fiscal Year 2014 than it did in prior years.

In Amtrak’s FY2014 financial results released Tuesday, the railroad reported a net loss of $1.08 billion, compared to a net loss of $1.27 billion in FY2013.

The railroad’s revenues increased by eight percent over FY2013, partly on the strength of robust demand for its Washington-to-Boston services. The Northeast Corridor trains had 11.6 million passengers in FY2014, up 3.3 percent from the prior year.

Full story

November 24, 2014

The Week Ahead: OPEC, Oil, Shipping, Shopping

72849335 445x285 The Week Ahead: OPEC, Oil, Shipping, Shopping

Workers place boxes on a conveyor belt at the FedEx facility at the Oakland International Airport. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

This week’s most significant transportation event won’t take place in Washington, or in the United States at all, but in Vienna where representatives of the OPEC oil cartel will be meeting on Thanksgiving Day.

The 12-member cartel is under stress from lower oil prices, with the price of benchmark Brent crude having fallen by 30 percent since June.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that U.S. crude production, driven in large part by advances in hydraulic fracturing, will increase from an average of 7.5 million barrels a day last year to 9.4 million barrels a day in 2015.

Full story

November 20, 2014

Despite Airbag Defects, Driving Safer Than 20 Years Ago

454356950 445x238 Despite Airbag Defects, Driving Safer Than 20 Years Ago

Labor Day holiday traffic in Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2014. (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

On the eve of Thursday’s Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on defective vehicle airbags that may have killed four people in the United States, President Obama nominated Mark Rosekind, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, to fill the long-vacant job as head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Governors Highway Safety Association cheered the nomination, calling Rosekind a leader in investigating and deterring drunk driving, drugged driving, and distracted driving.

Full story

November 19, 2014

A Streetcar Setback in D.C. Suburbs

454075564 445x294 A Streetcar Setback in D.C. Suburbs

Emergency responders take part in a drill on H Street Northeast in Washington. A new streetcar is in a test phase. (Photo Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

The momentum to transform America’s cities with streetcars and light rail systems got a setback Tuesday when the Arlington County Board in the Washington, D.C. suburbs voted to cancel a planned $550 million streetcar system.

The decision followed the election on Nov. 4 of prominent streetcar opponent John Vihstadt, an independent, to a full term on the board, following his victory in a special election last spring.

The county board chairman, Jay Fisette, a Democrat, said that he and other streetcar proponents “were caught flat-footed” by the public opposition. Full story

November 17, 2014

D.C. Streetcar Gives Congress Nearby Case Study

454075710 445x302 D.C. Streetcar Gives Congress Nearby Case Study

The District of Columbia’s first modern streetcar line is still in a test phase (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Cruising very slowly with no passengers on board on its test runs up and down H Street Northeast in the nation’s capital, the Washington, D.C. streetcar gives members of Congress and think tank experts a local, real-world example, which could illuminate the national transportation debate.

In an editorial Monday, the Washington Post urged D.C. Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser to “bring focus and rationality to the project before proceeding with any expansion” beyond the initial 2.2 mile H Street line.

 

Full story

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