Thursday, May 1, 2008

My Senator Takes the Morning Train

Ok, so I don't know if my Senator takes the morning train, but you can say that if you're from Delaware. In a speech earlier this week, Senator Thomas Carper (D, Delaware), the junior senator from Delaware told his colleagues that he takes the train home, almost every night.

And why shouldn't he? The end of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor is only 2500 feet from the Senate Chamber. The Senator needs to walk less than a half mile up (ironically) Delaware Avenue to Burnham's masterpiece, Union Station.

So yesterday, while we bloggers were lamenting the lack of leadership on this issue, Mr. Carper was on the floor of the Senate saying this (excerpt):

I ride the train back and forth most days. I live in Delaware, and I go back and forth. As my colleague, the Presiding Officer, knows, I go back and forth almost every night to Delaware. A strange thing is going on with respect to passenger rail ridership in this country.

I used to serve on the Amtrak board when I was Governor of Delaware, and every year we would see ridership go up by a couple of percentage points. We would struggle, try to raise money out of the fare box to pay for the system and the expansion of the system. Well, the first quarter of this fiscal year, ridership at Amtrak is up 15 percent. Revenues are up by 15 percent. People are starting to realize that maybe it makes sense to get out of our cars, trucks, and vans and take the train or take transit. Transit ridership is up again this fiscal year more dramatically than it has been in some time.

Americans are beginning to literally buy homes in places that are closer to opportunities for transit--for rail, for bus, for subways, for the metro systems. As we have seen the drop in home prices across the country--in some cases, very dramatic--among the surprises, at least for me, is to see housing prices stable and in some cases actually going up in places where people can buy a home and live and get to work or wherever they need to go to shop without driving to get there.

I don't know how gullible we think the American voters are to suggest to them that we are going to have this holiday on gas taxes, Federal gas taxes, for 3 months or for 6 months, maybe to get us through the next election, and then when the elections are over we will go ahead and reinstate the gasoline tax to what it has been even though in doing that we might be depleting further the money available for transportation improvements. I don't know how foolish we think the American voters are. They are a lot smarter than that. They are a lot smarter, maybe, than we give them credit for being.

I think in this country people are crying out for leadership. They are calling out for Presidential leadership, whether it is from our side of the aisle or the Republican side. People want leaders who are willing to stay out of step when everybody else is marching to the wrong tune, and I would suggest that the wrong tune is to suspend the Federal gasoline tax and at the same time not replace the dollars that would otherwise go into the transportation trust fund to fix our dilapidated, our decaying transportation system. Voters in this country deserve better leadership from us. I am determined, I am committed to making sure we provide and pay for that.

Before I close, there are a lot of good ideas for things we ought to do. I mentioned, tongue in cheek, that we ought to provide more R&D investment for a new generation of lithium batteries for plug-in hybrid vehicles. I say, tongue in cheek, we ought to use the Government purchasing power to commercialize advanced technology vehicles. We are doing that. I said with tongue in cheek we ought to provide tax credits to encourage people to buy highly efficient hybrid vehicles and very low diesel-powered vehicles that are efficient. We are doing that.

There other things we need to do too. We need to invest in rail service. We can send from Washington, DC, to Boston, MA, a ton of freight by rail on 1 gallon of diesel fuel. I will say that again. We could send from Washington, DC, to Boston, MA, a ton of freight by rail on 1 gallon of diesel fuel. But we as a government choose not to invest in freight rail and, frankly, to invest very modestly in passenger rail. It is a highly energy-efficient way to move people and goods.

(Emphasis mine)

And just to prove that politicians can do more than pander on energy policy, he closed by saying:

I will have a chance to come back later in the week and talk about this some more. Sometimes we underestimate the wisdom of the voters. I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said: If you tell the American people the truth, they won't make a mistake. I will do my dead level best to make sure, during the course of the debate on this notion of waiving the gasoline tax or having a holiday on the gasoline tax until after the election, I am going to make sure, I hope with a number of my colleagues, the American people understand the truth and the full picture and that they will make the right decision. Hopefully, we will too.

(Emphasis mine)

This is the kind of leadership we should get from our elected officials. I wish I could call Mr. Carper my Senator.

Thanks to JW for the heads up on this speech.


skiddie said...

It's great to see somebody like that in the Senate. Unfortunately, I get the impression he doesn't know what "tongue in cheek" means, but on the whole what he said was excellent-- and I've never even heard of the guy!

Chris L said...

Can you imagine how different things would be if every senator shared his perspective? That's a country I want to live in!

Sean said...

It is nice to know that someone is sincerely trying to come up with long-term solutions, and realize that we need a multi-pronged approach. We have seen some tax credits for hybrids and such, although that is still relatively minor and barely offsets the cost differential.

Reinvigorating our dilapidated public transportation infrastructure and investing in scaling up the system so people were willing to take it is exactly what we need. That holds true for Freight rail all across the country, and for passenger rail at least in NE to Mid-Atlantic region, and probably on the west coast. Transcontinental rail, and rail in the south still runs into population density issues. I think Obama is the only candidate to have legitimately discussed infrastructure - albeit in terms of providing blue-collar jobs. But maybe he could be persuaded to focus on public transport infrastructure and renewable power sources rather than just the interstate.