Transportation News for June 30, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on June 30, 2015

POLITICO Morning Transportation for 6/30/2015

By HEATHER CAYGLE, with help from Kathryn A. Wolfe

HOPES, DREAMS AND THE HIGHWAY TRUST FUND: Congress has a little over a month to figure out the next round of bailouts for the Highway Trust Fund. And with a little under $11 billion needed just to keep transportation projects chugging along through the end of the year, things aren’t looking good for a long-term deal like industry groups are hoping. But that didn’t stop President Barack Obama from using a high-profile bill signing Monday to call a little attention to the next major hurdle facing Congress. “I thought we’d start off the week with something we should do more often — a truly bipartisan bill signing,” Obama said as he prepared to sign a package of trade bills ( at the White House, including the fast-track legislation that House Democrats tried to derail earlier this month.
“This was a true bipartisan effort. And it’s a reminder of what we can get done –- even on the toughest issues — when we work together in a spirit of compromise,” he added. “I hope we’re going to be able to summon that same spirit on future challenges, like starting to rebuild some of our roads and bridges and infrastructure around the country because the American people deserve nothing less from us.”

Summer reading list: Just in time for the looming July 31 deadline, Eno Center for Transportation’s resident genius Jeff Davis is out with some required reading for newbies and old-timers alike: Highway Trust Fund 101. The easy-to-read 15-pager is based on a similar paper published by the FHWA way back in 1998 but with an updated rundown of the trust fund’s challenges. Check it out:

State gas taxes on the up-and-up: Capitol Hill may not be able to get it together on a gas tax hike but that hasn’t stopped several states from forging ahead with their own increases. Starting on Wednesday, six states will see a bump in their gas taxes. Carl Davis from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has more: “Maryland’s increase is due to a 2013 law signed by current presidential candidate Martin O’Malley. Rhode Island’s increase is a result of a 2014 law signed by current presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee. Georgia and Idaho’s increases are due to new laws signed just this year. And Nebraska and Vermont are raising gas taxes automatically as a result of variable-rate formulas that have been on their books for many years,” Davis wrote to MT in an email. And read his full blog post here:

Bookmark this: DOT updated its Highway Trust Fund ticker Friday and the numbers are grim. The highway account is supposed to dip below its critical $4 billion balance by the end of July and will be insolvent the first week of September if lawmakers don’t intervene. The transit account will reach its critical funding threshold by the end of August and will run out of money sometime in October. More details here:

FEDEX, BIG 3 SPAR OVER OPEN SKIES: Emirates airline President Tim Clark will be in Washington today to talk Open Skies and the continuing war of words between Gulf carriers and the U.S. Big 3 — Delta, United and American Airlines. The briefing and Q&A kicks off at 9 a.m. at the National Press Club (Webcast here:

Not to be outdone, the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies (representing the interests of the Big 3) came out swinging against FedEx on Monday, which happens to side with the Gulf carriers on the issue. The group accuses FedEx of flip-flopping and making “numerous contradictory statements” in its recent filing to the State Department opposing a request by U.S. carriers to reopen Open Skies negotiations with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Read the 10-page filing from the Big 3:

And in the other corner: But FedEx isn’t backing down, with company spokeswoman Maury Donahue telling MT that the corporation has always been “a visible, vocal, and consistent advocate for open markets and open trade.” “The recent filing by DL/UA/AA misrepresents and mischaracterizes [FedEx’s] position on many important policy issues,” Donahue added.

WE WELCOME TUESDAY WITH OPEN ARMS: Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports. I’m your host, Heather, filling in some familiar shoes for a few days while Jen is off enjoying an island vacay.

Here’s to hoping y’all are just as ready as I am to head back into the danger zone as Maverick takes on a drone fleet in the long-awaited Top Gun sequel ( Just thinking about the possibilities for a Top Gun redux is already taking my breath away ( (I know that’s cheesy but I just couldn’t help myself. It’s a classic, people.)

Don’t be a stranger! Send hot tips, scoops, jokes and complaints about my cheesy puns to or shoot a tweet my way @heatherscope. And don’t forget to follow Team Transpo: @jascholtes, @kathrynwolfe and @morning_transpo.

“Jumped in the cab, here I am for the first time. Look to my right and I see the Hollywood sign…”

UBER TURF WAR EXPLODES IN FRANCE: If you think the turf battles between Uber and its taxi counterparts in the U.S. are interesting, buckle up because things are boiling over in France with no signs of a cooling off period on the horizon. AFP with the story: “Two top Uber bosses were taken into custody in France Monday as part of a probe into their ride-booking app [that] has sparked violent protests from regular taxi drivers, the company said. … Uber has faced rising anger in several countries, particularly in France, where a taxi strike last week turned violent as drivers set fire to vehicles and blocked highways, creating a headache for thousands of tourists. …UberPOP has been illegal in France since January, but the law has proved difficult to enforce and it continues to operate.” Full story:

APPROPRIATORS WANT AMTRAK RESPONSE BEEFED UP: Language tucked inside the transportation spending bill approved by Senate appropriators last week includes directions to Amtrak to beef up its emergency response following reports of confusion and disarray after the deadly derailment in May. Kathryn has more: The spending bill directs Amtrak to revise its emergency response plan and “to ‘fully participate’ with NTSB’s evaluation of the rail line’s passenger support services, and further would require Amtrak to revise its plans to incorporate lessons learned. Similarly, the bill would direct NTSB to do the same for its own policies and procedures.”

Mo’ money, mo’ problems: More from Kathryn: “The bill also makes it clear that Amtrak shouldn’t expect a huge infusion of cash for capital grants. …Instead, the committee notes it has freed up unobligated funding from prior years for capital grants for Amtrak.”

So what’s next? Congress has until the end of September to pass the dozen appropriations bills the keep the government doors open and subsidized programs like Amtrak chugging along. But since regular order in the appropriations process has all but disappeared, it’s likely lawmakers will pass another stopgap spending bill in September that maintains current funding levels and buys appropriators more time to work out a deal.

MORE SENATE THUD DEETS: Now that the transportation tornado that hit Capitol Hill has calmed down (it sure helps that lawmakers are out of town for the week), Kathryn had some time to dig through the Senate THUD bill for the Easter eggs that pros love so much:

Foot dragging: Senate appropriators also called the FAA out for dragging its feet on two pending rules — one prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes on aircraft, which was supposed to be published by the end of 2014, and one controversial rule seeking to prohibit people from using their cellphones to yak all flight. Appropriators want both rules issued posthaste.

…And truck luv: Appropriators also gave a couple nods to commercial truck drivers, including requiring FMCSA to display on any website, smartphone app or “other electronic medium” where trucking companies’ safety scores can be accessed, “a disclaimer highlighting GAO’s concerns and recommendations” about the methodology used to calculate them, and warning that the scores “are not necessarily reliable indicators of relative safety performance.” It also requires the DOT to issue a much-anticipated study on truck size and weight limits within a month after the bill is enacted.


-Metro-North employees indicted, accused of cheating on conductor exams. The New York Times:

-Former D.C. Taxi Commission Chairman Ron Linton — known for pushing reforms and sparring with Uber — dies at 86. The Washington Post:

-Do electric vehicles cause more pollution than gas powered cars? City Lab:

-Where WMATA went wrong. Greater Greater Washington breaks it down:

-Delaware court dismisses GM shareholders’ lawsuit tied to ignition switch recall. The Detroit News:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 32 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 93 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 499 days.

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