New Census Data Provides a Reality Check The 2000 Census figures released in early June offer dramatic evidence
of how a decade of prosperity, rapid population growth and continued suburbanization
have changed the travel habits of working Americans. The data serves as a reality
check to those who have been preaching the doctrine of "Smart Growth"
and predicting the collapse of the automobile-based society. The census figures
show that despite a decade of promotion of public transportation and carpooling
and despite substantial investment in rail transit, Americans have become ever
more reliant on cars. Between 1990 and 2000, the number and percentage of people
driving alone to work increased, while the number and percentage of carpoolers
substantially decreased. Multi-car ownership continued to soar, while the use
of public transportation as a share of total travel declined. A summary of the
new census findings is presented below.
Relieving Highway Congestion
Highway congestion is assuming increasing visibility on the congressional agenda.
The Subcommittee on Highways and Transit of the House Committee on Transportation
and Infrastructure recently devoted an entire session to discussing this topic
with Highway Administrator Mary Peters, representatives of interest groups and
expert witnesses. Said Peters: "Reducing highway congestion will not be easy.
Solutions will involve a mixture of investments to improve the operations and
efficiency of our existing facilities and the selective addition of new capacity."
This, too, was the message delivered by your editor, whose testimony we present
below. The Myth of the Underfunded Mass Transit All but two of the 19 largest metropolitan areas plan to devote at least
one-third of their total transportation spending to mass transit over the next
20-25 years, and 10 metro areas intend to spend more than half of their transportation
budget on transit. These emerge as the findings of a new FHWA/FTA compilation
of spending data from the adopted long range plans of large metropolitan areas.
By contrast, transit ridership constitutes less than 10 percent of total work
trips in all but three of these cities, according to the latest data from the
2000 census. Financing Future Transportation Needs
Part I: Short-Term Revenue Enhancements There is widespread sentiment within the transportation community that
federal funds for surface transportation must be increased. AASHTO estimates that
the funding level for highways should be raised from $34 billion (or $30 billion,
depending on assumptions as to the current base level) to $41 billion per year,
while the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) recommends that transit
funds should be increased from $7 billion to $14 billion per year. Upping the
ante, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) has
called for a "minimum" annual federal highway program of $50 billion,
with a preferred target of $65 billion per year. The U.S. Department of Transportation
has estimated in 2000 that an average annual investment of $56.6 billion would
be needed over the next 20 years just to maintain the physical conditions of existing
highways and bridges. (An updated estimate will be available this summer, based
on the latest Conditions and Performance report). Toward a Hydrogen-Based Future Signs of growing interest in automotive propulsion systems powered by
fuel cells are multiplying. The Administration's FreedomCAR initiative is focused
heavily on promoting research on hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles, with a proposed
budget of $150 million. The auto industry, having successfully blocked an increase
in CAFÉ standards, is rolling out a series of prototype fuel cell-powered
vehicles which, they claim, are the only technology with a real potential to significantly
cut the nation's long-term demand for oil and achieve energy independence. At
the Future Car Congress held in Washington in early June, the talk was mostly
about the "Hydrogen Future" and the "Global Hydrogen Economy".
Automotive industry leaders are saying they expect to see fuel cell powered vehicles
on the road within the next ten years. These are brave words, but do they reflect
High Occupancy/Toll (HOT) Lanes and Bus Rapid Transit are two related concepts
which, when combined, offer a powerful new approach to improving urban mobility.
HOT lanes offer urban motorists an option of faster, congestion-free travel in
dedicated lanes, while Bus Rapid Transit promises effective mass transit service
at a fraction of the cost of new rail starts. A congressionally authorized program
of "HOT networks"-built to benefit motorists and transit users alike-would
constitute a powerful expression of the increasingly intermodal nature of our
federal surface transportation program. A summary of the concept and its potential
nationwide application is presented below.