The transportation marketplace is quickly and dramatically changing. Here’s what the next president needs to know.
Uber began testing fully automated vehicles in Pittsburgh last month in a move to lower the operating costs of its ride-hailing service. The company’s business decision has implications beyond profits and lower fares – it may very well signal a sea change in personal and mass mobility. The technology at the heart of this story has the potential to forever reshape the way we design and utilize our roadways.
At least the Obama Administration seems to think so. The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) recently released an overview of its policy on automated vehicles. The fact sheet says USDOT regulators are being proactive in working to ensure “innovations are introduced safely and that their benefits are widely shared.”
Innovation, though, is only one part of the story of our changing transportation marketplace. Transportation preferences are changing. We are seeing record transit ridership, with Americans taking 10.6 billion trips by transit in 2015 alone. In the past decade, the number of trips taken by bicycle more than doubled from 1.7 billion in 2001 to 4 billion in 2009.
With all these developments, there’s one big unknown – what will be our next president’s vision for transportation in America? Put simply, the next four years will be a world apart from the one envisioned by planners at the outset of our federal transportation program. The stakes are high. Here’s what America’s cities ask the next president to do:
1. Make transportation a priority
According to a report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, 92 percent of the jobs added and 89 percent of the GDP growth in the United States happened in metropolitan areas in 2012. But our innovative economy does not move without an innovative and well-funded transportation system: one which carries people and goods with great efficiency across our complex network of roads, ports, rail lines, transit systems, sidewalks, and bike paths.
And yet, after years of federal underinvestment, each of these systems is crumbling around us. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), in their most recent assessment, scored our infrastructure at a D+, citing an immediate need of $3.6 trillion to bring it into a state of good repair by 2020. The real world implications of this underinvestment are felt by every American: from tragedies like the collapse of the I-35W Mississippi River bridge, which killed 13 people and injured nearly 150 more, to the simple fact that an inefficient system takes a toll on our wallets (ASCE estimates that from 2016 to 2025, each household will lose $3,400 each year in disposable income due to deficiencies in our infrastructure). It is vital that the candidates understand a failure to act now means America’s greatest asset, our cities, will fall behind the rest of the world.
2. Make a significant, one-time cash investment in shovel ready projects
With America’s existing transportation infrastructure in dire need of immediate funding to bring it into a state of good repair, the next president should make a significant, one-time cash investment in shovel-ready projects that will keep our roads, bridges, and transit systems safe and operational. If repatriation or other corporate tax loophole fixes are on the table for transportation funding in 2017, this would be a far better use of those funds than as a short-term patch to keep our surface transportation programs running for another 6 years, as has been proposed.
3. No more band-aids for our surface transportation program
Whether it is increasing the gas tax and indexing it to inflation and fuel economy standards, implementing a vehicle miles traveled tax, placing a per-barrel tax on oil, or any number of other user-fees, America’s cities have had enough uncertainty and the time to act on transportation-specific, sustainable funding is now.
4. Bring city leaders to the decision-making table
Finally, and here’s one you can do without Congress, create a new position at USDOT to better coordinate with city leaders on the needs and demands of their transportation systems. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx laid the groundwork for more local involvement this year when he said projects “should be built by, for and with the communities impacted by them.” Yet, with the bulk of transportation funding and decision-making authority going to state departments of transportation, city leaders all too often feel ignored when it comes to making decisions about the projects that impact their communities.
In just over a month, city leaders from around the country will gather in Pittsburgh and see firsthand one city’s bold vision for the future of our transportation system. We respectfully ask the candidates to turn their attention not just to Pittsburgh, but to all of America’s cities and recognize that the time is now for their own bold vision at the federal level.
Stand with cities this election season by signing onto our city issues platform.
About the author: Matthew Colvin is the Principal Associate for Infrastructure and Development on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. He leads NLC’s advocacy, regulatory, and policy efforts on surface, air and marine transportation issues. Follow Matthew on Twitter at @MatthewAColvin.