By: Nora Prevoznak - Associated Renewable, Inc.
Published: October 16th, 2012
New York based and leading environmental group, The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) announced last month that 66 percent of Americans want Congress to spend more money on public transportation. Notably, they would prefer this over building more roads and highways. The NRDC survey found, three out of four Americans are frustrated with the lack of transportation options that forces them to drive more than they would prefer. The telephone survey was conducted by a bipartisan team. The survey also found that Americans understand that an improved transportation system will cost money – and are willing to pay for it. The NRDC also found that Americans actually over-estimate what their state spends on public transportation. This data, paired with a confirmed all-time high in transit ridership brings to attention a missing component of the 2012 Presidential election and debate – transportation improvements and investment. More government representatives should address public transportation needs.
Following the first Presidential debate on October 3rd, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood criticized Republican candidate Mitt Romney for not putting transportation on his agenda. LaHood, a former Republican congressman, added he finds it puzzling that Romney's campaign site does list transportation among 25 pertinent issues the Republican nominee has vowed to tackle if elected. During the convention, the Republic Platform called for public private partnerships, and more responsibility from states. Its most specific proposal is the elimination of funding for Amtrak passenger rail service. "The public has to subsidize every ticket nearly $50. It is long past time for the federal government to get out of way and allow private ventures to provide passenger service to the northeast corridor. The same holds true with regard to high-speed and inter-city rail across the country.”
The outcome of the November election could mean real trouble for Amtrak. This argument aligns closely with broader party objectives to reduce government spending and the deficit. Also cited in the GOP platform is reducing environmental regulations to expedite construction projects. The platform also says, “The current Administration has changed that, replacing civil engineering with social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit.”
That particular opposition to social engineering is most likely referring to the Democratic platform position of, “partnering with local communities to support their sustainable developments such as passenger rail, bicycle and pedestrian paths, and other projects to support livable cities.” The Democratic platform also states, “we support long-term investments in our infrastructure. Roads, bridges, rail and public transit systems, airports, ports and sewers are all critical to economic growth, as they enable businesses to grow." The Obama administration has been less critical of Amtrak, and has talked of investment in more high-speed rail.
The Obama Administration did achieve passage of a new $105 billion transportation bill, which took affect only recently on October 1st. The bill was dubbed, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21). The 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users bill, which expired in 2009 and was temporarily extended until 2012. The most important component of MAP-21 is increased funding for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan program, which is used for almost half the construction of new projects. It is too soon to tell if this program will lead to visible improvements, as of now Obama’s transportation policy has been insignificant.
Another important issue within transportation that the Obama Administration has confronted is fuel efficiency standards for automakers. The New CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards require automakers to produce cars that achieve 54.5 miles per gallon requirements by 2025. Republican leaders argue the rule will make car prices more expensive. President Obama believes it is an important move to help achieve energy security and reduce pollution, while saving money for drivers in the future. According to the International Energy Agency, transportation currently produces about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. The Obama administration has said the rules will provide an average fuel cost savings of more than $8,000 over the lifetime of a vehicle when they are fully implemented. Neither candidate supports a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax or an increase in the gas tax.
Transportation experts say they were not surprised that both Romney and Obama ignored comprehensive transportation policy debate, and do not expect the issue to come up. For an issue that is proven popular, and even bipartisan, why can’t the public push candidates to speak more specifically about transportation?
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