Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 1, 2015

Posts in "Travel"

January 28, 2015

Blizzard Economics Creates Winners And Losers

Snow covers a car in Cambridge, Mass. on Tuesday. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Snow covers a car in Cambridge, Mass. on Tuesday. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The blizzard that hit parts of the Northeast Tuesday may have been a bit of bust for New York City (9.8 inches in Central Park) and led to charges that Gov. Andrew Cuomo over-reached by ordering roads and mass transit to be shut down at 11pm Monday.

But the nor’easter dumped a lot of snow on places such as Southampton, N.Y. (29 inches) and Groton, Conn. (24 inches).

And according to the U.S. Travel Association, the cancelled flights cost the economy $230 million in passengers’ lost activity.

Each cancelled domestic flight costs the economy $31,600, according to a formula U.S. Travel researchers developed. The estimate is based on airline traffic and on-time data, air traveler behavior and other data collected through surveys, and U.S. Travel proprietary economic models.

The figure accounts for the passengers on more than 7,000 cancelled flights and the spending they would otherwise inject into the economy, but it does not calculate the impact on the airline industry.

Then again, storms such as Tuesday’s do create value for some people and some sectors of the economy.

In cities and towns from New Jersey to Maine there are tens of thousands of dollars spent on plowing and salting the roads. In one part of Massachusetts, hired contract plowers are paid $75 to $140 an hour. Full story

Boeing: Fuel Savings Not Sole Factor In Aircraft Buys

Crews work on the engine of an Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner last summer in Everett, Wash. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Crews work on the engine of an Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner last summer in Everett, Wash. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Lower oil prices have not changed airlines’ plans to buy fuel-efficient Boeing airplanes, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said Wednesday.

“We see low fuel prices and positive traffic trends as beneficial to our industry and growth prospects,” McNerney said during a conference call with investment analysts and reporters.

He said fuel efficiency isn’t the sole factor in airlines’ decisions to buy new planes.

McNerney said last October, when oil prices were at about $85 a barrel, that they would need to fall “a long way from where we are now” before “you begin to see even [an] incremental impact” on airlines’ demand for more fuel-efficient aircraft.

The Brent global benchmark is now under $50 a barrel.

Full story

January 26, 2015

Bust The Aircraft Duopoly? Not Quite Yet

The new Bombardier C series aircraft is shown in Mirabel, Quebec as it is due to take off for the first time on Sept. 16, 2013. (Photo: Clement Sabourin/AFP/Getty Images)

The new Bombardier C series aircraft is shown in Mirabel, Quebec as it is due to take off for the first time on Sept. 16, 2013. (Photo: Clement Sabourin/AFP/Getty Images)

Two competitors are aiming to break the hold that the Boeing-Airbus duopoly has on the market for long-haul jets, but one, China, is still years away from entering the global market, while the other, the Canadian company Bombardier, has been facing delays with its new midsized passenger jet.

The Financial Times asks Monday whether the difficulties Bombardier has had with its new C series passenger jet “are merely the kind of short-term blip that other aircraft manufacturers have experienced – and overcome – on big new projects, or a long-term risk to the company’s viability.”

Full story

By Tom Curry Posted at 1:45 p.m.
Airports, Aviation, Travel

January 22, 2015

FAA Urged To Move Faster On Technology Certification

Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Ray Conner  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Ray Conner (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Just as the Federal Aviation Administration is under pressure from Congress to move more quickly on writing rules for commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles, so too with an older industry: passenger airplanes.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster opened a hearing Wednesday on the FAA’s methods of certifying aircraft equipment by complaining that some of what the agency does “seems to be process simply for the sake of process.” Products and technology that can make aircraft safer “are often caught in a bureaucratic maze,” he said.

FAA is slower that agencies in other countries, Shuster said, which puts U.S. companies at a disadvantage to foreign competitors.

Full story

January 15, 2015

Tolling Expert Sees Bay Area as Place to Watch in 2015

This week we asked Matthew Click, vice president and director of priced managed lanes for HNTB, an infrastructure design and construction management company, what he thinks will be the most interesting place in country in 2015 to watch for development of toll lanes and congestion pricing.

Click’s choice: the San Francisco Bay area.

Here are the points he made: Full story

Putin Is Aviation Week’s Pick As Person Of The Year

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual press conference in Moscow on Dec. 18, 2014. (Photo: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual press conference in Moscow on Dec. 18, 2014. (Photo: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

The venerable aviation industry trade publication Aviation Week & Space Technology has chosen Russian President Vladimir Putin as its 2014 Person of the Year.

The magazine said in its issue dated Jan. 15 that the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, killing all 298 people on board last July, “changed civil aviation in a way that could hardly have been imagined one year earlier.”

It didn’t much matter “whether the attack on Flight 17 was a cruel mishap from a missile actually intended to hit Ukrainian military aircraft. Civil aviation has been, if not a target, then certainly a victim of a war fueled and directly supported by Putin’s Russia,” the magazine said.

Full story

January 14, 2015

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.

January 9, 2015

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

January 8, 2015

Airlines Still Implementing Lessons Of 2009 Crash

Workers and investigators clear debris from the scene of the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 in 2009 near Buffalo-Niagara International Airport, killing all 49 people on the plane and one on the ground.  (Photo by David Duprey-Pool/Getty Images)

Workers and investigators clear debris from the scene of the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 in 2009 near Buffalo-Niagara International Airport, killing all 49 people on the plane and one on the ground. (Photo by David Duprey-Pool/Getty Images)

The crash of a Colgan Air flight as it approached the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport, killing 50 people, including 45 passengers, happened almost six years ago, but regulators and airlines are still implementing its lessons.

On Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Federal Aviation Administration chief Michael Huerta announced a rule that requires most U.S. commercial airlines to implement by 2018 a management system to help them examine data gathered from flight operations and reduce risk.

The rule will “foster a stronger safety culture” within the airlines, Huerta said, adding that “a strong safety culture is a very, very valuable thing. It’s something that we cannot regulate completely in every aspect because it is something that a company has to create from within.”

The NTSB report about the Feb. 12, 2009 Colgan Air accident still makes disturbing reading long after the fact.

Full story

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

December 31, 2014

Transportation Hurdles Ahead In 2015 For Congress

Christmas travelers walk past a man focused on his smartphone on Dec. 23, 2014  at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. during the hectic Christmas travel week.    (Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Christmas travelers walk past a man focused on his smartphone on Dec. 23, 2014 at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. during the hectic Christmas travel week. (Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

In the New Year, Congress faces far-reaching policy and spending choices that will put members under both time and political pressure. Will there be enough time to accomplish all that needs to be done, or will decisions be postponed in favor of short-term expedients?

Here are some of the issues that are likely to be contentious in 2015

  • Unmanned aerial systems: Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee let Federal Aviation Administration officials know at a Dec. 10 hearing that they’re fed up with the agency’s slowness in devising a rule to integrate unmanned aerial vehicles into the nation’s airspace.

Congress may take some of these decisions into its own hands if the FAA doesn’t act quickly enough. Some members see the UAV industry’s vast potential being stymied by the FAA’s inaction. Full story

December 24, 2014

A Look Back At Our Favorite Stories Of The Year

Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, left, in July called a temporary FAA ban on flights to the Tel Aviv airport an economic boycott of Israal. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, left, in July called a temporary FAA ban on flights to the Tel Aviv airport an economic boycott of Israal. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Since we launched The Container in June, transportation news has been dominated by one big trend, the decline in oil and gasoline prices, by an Ebola outbreak that caused jitters in the aviation industry, and by a range of tough policy choices that Congress has faced.

Here’s a glance back at the some of our favorite stories since we launched…

  • Unless you’re the Nigerian or Russian energy minister, you’re probably happy about declining oil and gasoline prices. We took note when the price at the pump fell below in $3 a gallon.
  • The price of oil has been driven down in part by the boom in production in North Dakota’s Bakken shale. In July we got some perspective on shipment of Bakken crude from a major player in the industry, Global Partners CEO Eric Slifka, who made the case why rail shipment is better than pipelines.
  • On Capitol Hill, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. won a victory in his battle for less costly shipping of food aid to countries in need….
  • …while some House members still waxed nostalgic for the now-banned earmarks that they say would make it easier to enact a major transportation spending bill.
  • In the crowded skies, drones swooping over your neighborhood to survey real estate (but only if the Federal Aviation Administration gives its OK) was a provocative scenario we heard about
  •  Also aloft, one airline industry analyst complained that “we as customers still feel entitled to have access to that [luggage] bin space with our ticket. Why is that?”
  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has a knack for making news with pungent statements and in July, to our benefit, he weighed in on the FAA temporarily banning U.S. flights to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, calling it an economic boycott of Israel. The FAA acted after a rocket landed about a mile from the airport as fighting raged between Israel and Hamas.
  • The alarm about the Ebola virus peaked in October and we pondered how Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sounded as much like an economist as an epidemiologist. We also got the views of an airport administrator who is on the Ebola front lines: “to chase anonymous vomit. That’s what my job has become.”

Note: The Container will resume regular publication on Jan. 5.

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