The Site / The Fight

by Yonah Freemark
yfreemark (at) thetransportpolitic (dot) com
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Our Government: By the Wealthy, For the Wealthy

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» Congress’ willingness to address the sequester, but only for the Federal Aviation Administration, is a disgusting sort of bipartisan agreement.

The sequester, which went into effect at the beginning of last month, cut more than $85 billion from the federal budget for this year alone. Its cuts, whose impacts will continued to be felt through 2021, were disproportionately focused on domestic programs. Public transportation, for instance, was dramatically affected: Almost $600 million was cut from funding directed towards mitigating the effects of Hurricane Sandy; another $104 million was cut from capital investment grants that fund new train and bus lines; Amtrak lost $80 million.

Other cuts, such as those to the nation’s affordable housing, Head Start, schools, and meals for seniors, are even more devastating for the nation’s least well-off.

Congress, however, has been incapable of addressing the issue, allowing the cuts to these essential programs to reinforce America’s growing

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A Renewed Look at Federal Funding for Transit Operations

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» With a budget stalemate in Congress, the future for transit funding may increasingly be in the hands of state and local governments. But that could magnify seriously inequitable outcomes, an analysis of data from 65 cities shows.

The federal transportation program is at a crossroads. Congress is apparently incapable of advancing new or expanded funding for roads and transit, and has even passed legislation cutting back on previously approved appropriations.

The stalemate has left academics and commentators grasping about for a solution. Some, as Eric Jaffe profiled in an article this week, suggest that a decline in Washington’s role in funding transportation infrastructure may lead to better decisions by states and localities about how to invest; too many projects, they argue, are poorly designed or executed, in part because of federal sway. In theory, states and cities will raise the funds for their transportation spending themselves and make better decisions

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In France, a Truly Low-Cost High-Speed Rail Option

Ouigo

» To convince even more passengers to take the train, the SNCF national rail carrier plans to offer very cheap tickets.

France’s SNCF national rail service has, since the introduction of the TGV in 1981, held to the belief that fast trains should not be segregated to serve only higher-paying passengers. As a result, fast trains have replaced all slow-speed service on most long-distance travel throughout the country; passengers are able to take advantage of fare deals that allow them to journey between cities hundreds of miles apart at €25 or less, as long as they book in advance.

This dedication to opening up speedy trains to people across the income spectrum is unique compared to most other European and Asian countries. In Germany, for instance, train service between major cities is often available at two speeds — fast Intercity-express and slower InterCity, at very different prices. In the

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TIFIA Loans Likely Skewed Towards New Road Projects

Tappan Zee Bridge

» Thanks to last year’s transportation authorization legislation and a lack of applications from transit authorities, aid from the TIFIA program is likely to be heavily biased towards roads projects.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama argued that federal transportation funding in the United States should follow a “fix-it-first” philosophy, where the rebuilding of roads and bridges (and presumably transit lines) with structural deficiencies is prioritized over the construction of new infrastructure. There is a lot to like about this idea: It would maximize the use of our existing resources, and it would ensure that the government isn’t sponsoring an expanded mobility infrastructure before our existing structures are up to date.

Everyone should be able to get behind this idea.

Yet the projects the Administration will begin financing through the TIFIA reduced-interest loan program are likely to take the opposite tact, for the most part supporting new

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The Federal Role in Surface Transportation Funding

» Contesting Washington’s involvement in transport funding could be deeply problematic.

The issue of how or even whether Washington should be involved in the funding of American transportation programs has been of concern for decades. When most travel undertaken is of a local nature — people getting to and from home, work, and leisure — why should the federal government be involved with the financing of new or maintained roads and transit systems?

Like with most expenditures, one clear argument for federal involvement is that using funds derived from nationally produced revenues allows for a more progressive apportionment of overall spending power, since revenues can be redistributed among the population as a whole. This, after all, is how our national social programs work, in health and education, for example. The benefit is obvious: A more equal society in which people all over the country are blessed with the nation’s wealth. The U.S. provides

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