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March 7, 2015

Posts in "Commuting"

March 5, 2015

Bipartisan Move To Delay Deadline On Train Braking

Officials inspect a Metro-North train crash with a sport utility vehicle that happened on Feb. 4, 2015 in Valhalla, N.Y.  (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Officials inspect a Metro-North train crash with a sport utility vehicle that happened on Feb. 4, 2015 in Valhalla, N.Y. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Last month Edward Hamberger, the president of the Association of American Railroads, told a House panel that the freight rail industry simply could not and would not meet the end-of-year deadline set by Congress to have in place an automatic braking system called positive train control (PTC).

Accidents such as the one in Valhalla, N.Y. last month in which six commuters were killed when a train hit an SUV stopped on the tracks have given the PTC issue renewed urgency.

“We have spent over $5 billion trying to implement positive train control. We are not dragging our feet in any way,” Hamberger told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials. “We are not going to make the deadline at the end of this year, but we are committed to getting it done.”

On Wednesday the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee seemed to acknowledge that reality by proposing a bill to push the deadline back by five years.

The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. John Thune, R- S.D., Sen. Roy Blunt, R- Mo., Sen. Bill Nelson, D- Fla., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D- Mo.,

In a statement, Hamberger thanked the senators for proposing to remove what he called “an arbitrary and infeasible statutory deadline.”

Hamberger cited the technical difficulties of making positive train control work and said the industry sees the proposed new deadline as “a reasonable and responsible extension.”

 

March 3, 2015

House To OK First Transportation Bill Of 114th Congress

Rep. Julia Brownley, D- Calif.  (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Julia Brownley, D- Calif. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The House is getting ready to pass the first transportation legislation of the 114th Congress, the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act.  The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee OK’d it last month it by a unanimous vote.

The Congressional Budget Office says the bill would authorize $7.2 billion in spending from 2016 to 2020. The biggest piece of spending is $5.3 billion for grants to Amtrak.

Among the amendments to the bill which the House will vote on is one by Rep. Julia Brownley, D- Calif. which would require each state to develop a plan to identify ways, such as grade separations, to make grade crossings safer.

It was in Brownley’s district last month that a collision took place between a commuter train and a truck which apparently was stuck on the train tracks.

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 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

A Train Station, Or ‘An Incredible Destination’?

The lobby of the Radisson in Scranton, Pa., formerly the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad station. (Courtesy: Radisson Hotels)

The lobby of the Radisson in Scranton, Pa., formerly the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad station. (Courtesy: Radisson Hotels)

So valuable is some big city real estate that rail yards can’t be just rail yards anymore, and a train station must be far more than a place to get on a train, it must become a “destination” or better still a “a place to be seen.”

If you’re a utilitarian traveler from Washington to New York or from Washington to Philadelphia, you might be satisfied simply with “a clean, well-lighted place,” a crime-free train station with tolerably hygienic bathrooms.

Add a good coffee shop, and perhaps a place to get a glass of wine and a sandwich. And a newsstand, and maybe a book shop, like the late lamented Posman Books in New York’s Grand Central Station.

That’s enough for some travelers.

And most importantly, the train service itself should be frequent and reliable.

But if your calling in life is real estate development, those expectations are far too modest.

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

February 12, 2015

Mass Transit Project Awaits Army Corps Permit

Rep. Mike Honda, D- Calif.  (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Mike Honda, D- Calif. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

When you hear “Army Corps of Engineers,” you may think of Mississippi River levees. But the Corps’ decisions can also affect mass transit.

Case in point: Rep. Mike Honda, D- Calif., is prodding Corps leaders on why the Santa Clara Valley Water District hasn’t yet received a permit from the Corps that would allow it to finish a flood control project on the Lower Berryessa Creek.

That project is crucial to the opening of a new Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station in Honda’s district.

The California Democrat has been working for years to extend BART to the Silicon Valley and got $900 million in federal funding for the BART extension.

Full story

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

February 5, 2015

Heritage: Focus Highway Spending On Highways

Cars on Interstate 280 in San Francisco. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Cars on Interstate 280 in San Francisco. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A book of government cost-cutting ideas offered by the conservative Heritage Foundation on Thursday includes a big one for transportation: limit spending from the Highway Trust Fund only to the amount of revenue the fund collects from federal highway taxes.

Eight-five percent of those revenues come from gasoline and diesel fuel taxes, but there is some revenue from excise taxes on trucks, trailers, and truck tires.

Heritage says its idea would save $179 billion over 10 years.

The Heritage Budget Book said that “Congress diverts at least 25 percent of HTF dollars to non-road, non-bridge projects, including bicycle and nature paths, sidewalks, subways and buses, landscaping, and related low-priority and purely local activities.”

Instead, it said, Congress should limit trust fund spending to the roughly $39 billion collected from the gasoline, diesel, and other highway taxes “and refocus the federal highway program to encompass only Interstate Highway System maintenance and expansion, and a few other federal priorities, letting the states or private sector take over the other activities if they value them.”

This, the foundation said, “would free up valuable HTF money for road and bridge projects that will benefit those motorists paying for the program in the first place.”

The Congressional Budget Office noted in its annual forecast last week, federal spending on highways and mass transit has been running at about $53 billion a year.

CBO estimates that the revenues from federal taxes on gasoline and diesel which go into the Highway Trust Fund will stay at $38 billion to $39 billion a year from now until 2025.

Full story

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