Friday, October 3, 2008

Candidates and Transportation

As you're all aware, election day is rapidly approaching. Some Americans have already gone to the polls to vote, and this election sure is shaping up to be an exciting one. I talked about the candidates views on energy recently, and now it's time to address Track Twenty-Nine's issue number 1: Transportation.

In regards to transportation, the candidates are about as far apart as two people can be. Well, actually, I'll try and be more accurate: they're about as far apart as two politicians can be. My views are somewhat further from Senator McCain's than are Senator Obama's.

The largest difference between the candidates is at the fundamental level. Both agree that Americans need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but the similarities end there. Senator McCain may want to lower the amount of oil that we import, but he does not see reducing dependence on the automobile as a solution. In fact, many of Mr. McCain's policy positions seek to increase America's automobile addiction. Instead of sending our country into detox, he's just exchanging our foreign-cut with domestically extracted oil.

Senator Obama, on the other hand, wants to give Americans alternatives to driving. He also wants to reshape federal policy so that our communities can be made more walkable, livable, and transit-friendly. He recognizes the dire state of our nation's infrastructure and seeks to create funding sources, including leveraging private dollars, to keep our bridges from falling down and to keep our trains on track.

Senator Obama's pick for Vice President also earns him a gold star in my book for good transportation decision making. Senator Joe Biden has been commuting to Washington from his home in Delaware by Amtrak since he took office in 1973. He has long been an outspoken supporter of rail in this country, something that he will likely continue to advocate for as Vice President.

Senator McCain picked the governor of Alaska as his running mate, and that does not bode well for his credentials, at least not in the transportation sector. After clamoring for an earmark to build a bridge to Gravina Island, Governor Palin cancelled the bridge when the political tide turned against it. She still built the road to it anyway, and without the bridge, it's even more of a waste. At least with the bridge, people would have used the road.

Here's a brief breakdown of the candidates' positions:
Lists are not exhaustive.

Senator Barack Obama's Transportation Platform:
  • A top priority of the campaign is to strengthen our existing infrastructure.
  • Will create 1 million jobs through transportation investment.
  • Would create a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank to enhance and supplement federal transportation funding.
  • Leverage private investments through the infrastructure bank.
  • Supports federal funding for Amtrak.
  • Supports the development of high-speed passenger and freight rail systems.
  • Will double JARC funding to increase access to jobs for inner-city residents.
  • Will increase funding for public transportation.
  • Wants to raise transit/ridesharing benefits in tax code to the level of driver benefits.
  • Will strengthen the role of MPOs.
  • Supports requiring states to plan for energy conservation in transportation planning.
  • Supports a carbon cap/trade program.
  • Would offer incentives to transition to/develop alternative fuels.
  • Calls for a doubling of fuel efficiency standards within 18 years.
Senator John McCain:
(Website does not specifically list transportation as an issue)
  • Has called for a suspension of the federal gas tax.
  • Supports tax credits and other incentives to encourage alternative fuel development.
  • Believes that Amtrak is a symbol of government waste.
  • Would encourage telecommuting.
  • Thinks the solution to America's energy problem is to "drill, baby, drill."
While this list cannot be exhaustive, I did my best to compile information. Senator McCain's campaign website does not put much emphasis on transportation. A search of the site for the term "transit" returned hits where he refers to oil's transit routes (as in something that terrorists or dictators could disrupt) and border transit points.

The Brookings Institution has created a nice table comparing the candidates' opinions on transportation.

This election comes at a pivotal time for America. Oil Prices are at record highs. Ridership on transit and Amtrak is higher than it has been in decades. In the south, people can't even get gasoline. Scientists tell us that without a major shift in greenhouse gas emissions, global warming will only accelerate. We cannot afford to ignore these issues, yet one candidate out there seems to find them not worth mentioning.

November 4 is a very important day for America. Make sure you remember to go vote.


kenf said...

Sen. Obama's ONLY house is located inside a real city, a few blocks from a heavy/commuter rail transit stop. And, I'm sure there are many, many bus stops near his house. I used to live in his neighborhood.

fpteditors said...

Someone needs to ask McCain: While the U.S. is pumping its 3% of world's oil, won't the other producers just cut back slightly, keeping the price up, until U.S. oil is gone? Then what?
Free Public Transit Blog

Rob Pitingolo said...

Matt, this is one of the best head to head comparisons I've seen on this issue yet. Since so much of transit's capital costs are covered by the federal government, it is encouraging to see that we might finally have an administration that views transit as a valuable investment rather than costly waste.