Presidential Views (or not) on Public Transportation

As the primary season continues, MTR decided to ask the question: To what extent does transportation factor into the political discourse of the U.S. presidential candidates? Though it’s unlikely that transportation and land use issues will end up determining the election, nearly all of the candidates list climate change or energy independence as key planks in their platforms (the main exception being Ron Paul, who told City Hall News that he had never used the NYC or Washington, D.C. subways because subsidized transit violated his libertarian principles; does he drive on [subsidized] highways?).

To date, only the three main Democratic candidates (Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama) address the link between mass transit and smart growth on one hand and reduced automobile use and oil dependence on the other.

Hillary Clinton wants to increase federal funding for public transit by $1.5 billion per year. She mentions principles inherent in a smart growth approach to land use as she vows to encourage a shift away from commercial developments towards urban centers that balance residential, commercial, and transportation needs. She correctly points out that this will help discourage sprawl and fight congestion while also increasing mobility options for the elderly. She wants to invest an additional $1 billion in intercity passenger rail systems as this mode is a “critical component of the nation’s transportation system.”

John Edwards’ few sentences on transportation give a mere glimpse into his transportation priorities but he does reference smart growth and transit-oriented development and wants to create incentives to reduce vehicle-miles traveled in the US. He will “support more resources” to encourage greater mass transit use amongst workers and will encourage more affordable and environmentally sound transportation alternatives.

Barack Obama is the only candidate to connect transportation and economic access. He identifies lack of adequate public transportation as a barrier to low-income people seeking work and highlights the disproportionate share of income they spend on transportation. Like Clinton and Edwards, he wants to see increased transportation funding but he goes further by seeking to incentivize bike and pedestrian measures. He also wants to reform the tax code to equalize the commuter pre-tax benefits for parking and transit riding (currently, employees can use up to $220/month in pre-tax income for parking, but only $115/month for transit).

(Bill Richardson, who dropped out of the race last week, had called for increased transit funding, highlighted sprawl as a key cause of energy use, and said he would encourage local governments to build bike infrastructure using tax incentives.)

The rest of the candidates have little to say about transit or land use issues. Rudy Giuliani‘s “plan to move toward energy independence” says nothing about getting people out of their cars onto mass transit nor mentions anything about investment in public transportation – a disappointing plan from the former mayor of the most transit-dependent city in the US.

Mike Gravel would be better off calling for something more realistic than an extensive national network of magnetically levitating trains, but at least he is thinking of public transportation.

Dennis Kucinich has called for increased funding for mass transit, but his environmental platform largely focuses on other issues. Mike Huckabee‘s “comprehensive energy independence plan” has no details, though he plans to achieve this independence by the end of his second term in office. Mitt Romney is also mum on transportation issues, but believes we can reduce our energy dependence by opening up the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration and increasing off-shore drilling. Unlike the other Republicans, John McCain identifies climate change as a key issue, but says nothing about transportation. Fred Thompson, on the other hand, is still not convinced by global warming, saying “While we don’t know for certain how or why climate change is occurring, it makes sense to take reasonable steps to reduce CO2 emissions without harming our economy.” (Those steps say nothing about investing in public transportation.)

As measured by the presidential campaigns, transportation policy on the national level is still dominated by debates over CAFE standards and investing in alternative fuels. But as more Americans move to cities and traffic congestion continues to worsen, national politicians must recognize that auto-dependent development is as big an issue – if not bigger – than old automobile technology. Notably, Democratic frontrunners Sens. Clinton (D-NY) and Obama (D-IL), who have comparatively extensive transportation plans, represent states with major urban centers and transportation infrastructure. New York City and Chicago have the largest and second-largest transit systems of all U.S. cities, and both metropolitan areas have significant commuter rail and bus networks. (Both city transit systems are also facing major funding crises.)

Locally, representatives from the Clinton, Giuliani, and Obama campaigns have confirmed their attendance at an “Presidential Candidates’ Forum on Infrastructure and Transportation” hosted by the NYU Rudin Center on Jan. 31.

11 Comments on "Presidential Views (or not) on Public Transportation"

  1. Interesting how you provided a link to every candidates’ web site w/ their name…except for Ron Paul. You link him to a small rag that denounces him. I’m sure he has a plan for public transportation, even if he doesn’t use it himself. It’s called the free market. I know the free market could handle this…the more a market competes, the cheaper and more efficient it gets. History backs me up on this as well. I just wanted to point out your obvious bias concerning Ron Paul however. I’m starting to get sick w/ all the blatant hatred for the man, and he’s the only one backing the rights that give you freedom of the press…how ironic. Hypocrites like you just disgust this combat veteran. I can’t help but respect the man…he’s standing up for every right I’ve bled for in combat…and pencil pushers like you get to beat him up in the press….sickening.

  2. Seems like Veronica Vanterpool is a tried and true member of the Faux news team. Miss Vanterpool, your link to a smear article about Dr Paul while linking to the official campaigns of EVERY OTHER candidate you talk about is beneath you. Not only that, it is clear proof that you are not a journalist but a paid lackey who will print whatever her boss tells her to with no desire to retain journalistic integrity.

    You should be ashamed of yourself! Are you a journalist or not? Because this article reads more like the National Enquirer and has about as much in common with honest journalism as a pile of cow manure.

    Mike from Toledo, OH

  3. Maybe Vanterpool should have linked to Paul’s website (although I couldn’t find anything about public transportation there), but the City Hall News article she did link to told me enough about Paul’s thinking.

    I mean, can you imagine anything shallower than refusing to pay $2 to ride a subsidized train, while having no qualms riding on “free” subsidized roads? If Paul is a libertarian, he’s the stupidest libertarian I’ve ever heard of.

  4. Wow, gotta love the brave new world of the blogosphere. A wonk-tastic, tri-state area blog gets sent attack dogs from some Ron Paul website, foaming at the mouth with canned rhetoric. Damn liberal transportation geek media.

  5. On top of the whole problem with Paul’s ignoring the subsidies given to highways and roads is the fact that it’s precisely these subsidies that compel most Americans to become subservient to the the auto and oil industries, while making it difficult or impossible for them to use the most free and unencumbered modes of transportation, bicycling and walking.

    (Also, Mike: LOL)

  6. As off-base and melodramatic as the Paul supporters’ accusations are, I agree that not linking to Paul’s site was an oversight. The post has been edited to reflect that.

  7. There’s a bit more to McCain than was mentioned here! He is not supportive of Amtrak and wants to cut federal funding. (Sen. John McCain calls the subsidizing of Amtrak “pork.”) See:

  8. McCain might screw up traffic in California, the Midwest, and the Northeast if elected

    If he vetoes spending bills because they include Amtrak spending (which he has a record of considering to be “pork barrel spending”), effectively zeroing out Amtrak’s budget, then the trains might stop running, leading to heavy traffic jams in urban parts of this country. Opposing Amtrak as an Arizona senator (Arizona has lousy Amtrak service, so it doesn’t amount to much influence on traffic over there) is one thing, but if he goes to the White House and does it, he’s bound to draw a lot more criticism from the nation as a whole. Amtrak is NOT a Pork Barrel project; it is essential to many states and draws customers to tourist destinations in most of the Lower 48.


  10. Too bad Mitt Ropmney is ignoring transit, smart growth, and is instead appealing to the oil barons and yahoos who want to trash Alaska and our coastlines. When he was Governor of Massachusetts he appointed an experienced advocate of smart growth and environmental quality to a key post in his administration, but apparently a man without principles, Romney now thinks that being a toady of the fossil fuel industry is the way to get elected.

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