February 27, 2020

Trucking industry to Congress: Don't use us to pay for surface bill - Politico

With help from Sarah Cammarata and Maya Parthasarathy

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Quick Fix

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— The trucking industry is warning Congressthat it will fiercely oppose any attempt to fund a surface transportation bill with truck-only fees.

— Travel giant Sabre heads to court next weekto defend its acquisition of competitor Farelogix against a DOJ challenge.

From Texas to Washington, D.C., automated vehicle companies and researchersare trying out their tech on new roads.

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Surface Transportation

DON'T SINGLE US OUT, BIG TRUCKING WARNS: The trucking industry, worried that congressional lawmakers could turn to it when figuring out how to pay for a surface transportation bill this year, is launching a preemptive campaign against using truck-only fees as a pay-for. “Any discriminatory funding schemes, like a truck-only vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax, will be met with resolute opposition by the industry, and must be dismissed as a misguided and prejudiced funding gimmick,” the American Trucking Associations wrote to Senate Finance Committee leaders this week.

There’s a burgeoning trend of lawmakers at the state level trying to pay for roads by forcing trucks to pay more. Rhode Island has instituted truck-only tolls (although an industry lawsuit against the policy is working its way through the courts). Connecticut is debating implementing the same. “We want to make clear that trying to fund national infrastructure on the back of our industry—one that is a central and critical link in the nation’s supply chain—is foolish policy and a non-starter for us,” said Jeremy Kirkpatrick, an ATA vice president, in an email to MT. The group has endorsed an increase on gas and diesel taxes.

TRANSPO BUILDERS PRAISE WATER RULE: The Trump administration released its long-awaited regulation to remove millions of miles of streams and roughly half the country’s wetlands from federal protection, Pro’s Annie Snider reports. The Navigable Waters Protection Rule is the largest Clean Water Act rollback since the law was passed in 1972. It’s a major win for agriculture, homebuilding, mining and oil and gas companies, but it’s also relevant for transportation infrastructure. The rule will “reduce delays to important transportation improvements,” the American Road & Transportation Builders Association said. Environmental groups have pledged to challenge the rule in court and claim the EPA’s move would eliminate protections that have cleaned the nation's water resources.

Aviation

SABRE'S DAY IN COURT: Travel booking giant Sabre on Monday will try to convince a judge that its $360 million acquisition of Farelogix won’t harm competition. As Pro Tech’s Leah Nylen reports, it’s a trial that could potentially create hurdles for other tech companies seeking to buy innovative startups.

United, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and others use Sabre to connect with online and traditional travel agents and Sabre charges a fee for tickets sold through the system. DOJ has argued that the merger with Farelogix, which uses alternative technology, would “eliminate a disruptive upstart that has the potential to modernize an industry characterized by high prices and outdated technology,” Leah writes. Sabre claims that incorporating Farelogix technology would allow the company to offer customers a better product.

MAILBAG: Minnesota Democrat Angie Craig has joined calls for Boeing to claw back compensation from former CEO Dennis Muilenburg earned during the development of the 737 MAX. “I’ve sat in the room with the family members of those who tragically lost their lives on the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights,” Craig said in a statement. “I’ve seen the pain on their faces, and I’ve committed that I would fight to make sure no one benefitted from these devastating crashes.”

FLIGHT ATTENDANTS URGE CORONAVIRUS PRECAUTIONS: Flight attendants are asking airlines to take precautions to protect passengers and crew from the coronavirus outbreak. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents American Airlines workers, said airlines should institute emergency measures, including giving necessary information to crew members.

Officials in Wuhan announced a complete travel ban on the city, in an attempt to lock down the virus that has already killed 17 and infected more than 550 in China. Flights and trains departing from Wuhan have been temporarily suspended, the South China Morning Post's Cissy Zhou reports.

SHIFTING GEARS: James Norrod has been named CEO of drone software company PrecisionHawk, as it chases profitability. Former CEO Michael Chasen will stay on the company’s board and continue to chair the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee.

Automobiles

MITRE LAUNCHES NEW AV LAB: MT had the chance to stop by MITRE’s new autonomous vehicle lab in Virginia this week and check out the hardware. The centerpiece of the Mobile Autonomous Systems Experimentation lab is a custom 2019 Jeep, loaded with sensors (two separate LIDAR systems, an infrared sensor, and more). That makes it different from the vehicles used by companies that are actively trying to bring their systems to market, which would only equip one type of sensor, said Zachary LaCelle, a senior autonomous systems engineer at MITRE. So far the Jeep, which lives in a garage on MITRE’s Mclean, Va., campus, has been rolling around the parking lots, fields and streets of Virginia and D.C. collecting data (that’s with a driver at the wheel; it doesn’t need to operate autonomously to gather bucketloads of data).

Guess who else is collecting AV data in D.C.? Uber. Starting today, the company said its Advanced Technologies Group will have self-driving vehicles, operated manually for now, collect data to start mapping for potential future use in the nation’s capital.

One other bit of AV news: Waymo is starting to test autonomous semi trucks in Texas and New Mexico this week. "These are interesting and promising commercial routes, and we’ll be using our vehicles to explore how the Waymo Driver might be able to create new transportation solutions," Waymo said. The trucks will not be carrying freight and will have a safety driver behind the wheel, our Tanya Snyder reports.

DOC OF THE DAY: NHTSA released its third report on the state of the Takata air bag recall. As of December 2019, there were more than 41 million vehicles under recall for approximately 56 million defective Takata air bag inflators, which can cause them to explode when deployed and have led to 16 deaths and hundreds of injuries.

Around the Agencies

ANOTHER DAY IN DAVOS: Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao took Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland to hype up urban air mobility tech, or in layman’s terms, flying taxis. According to the text of her speech, she walked through the FAA’s approach to regulating UAM, focusing on the FAA’s shift from prescriptive rules to performance-based regulation. “This approach will ensure that, as UAM technology and operations evolve, federal regulations will strengthen safety but be agile enough to grow with the technology,” Chao said.

Rail

AMTRAK EXPRESS OPERATING IN THE PAST: Amtrak’s package delivery service, Express, leaves the railroad vulnerable to security risks and delays, its inspector general said in a new report. The IG also noted that the program can cause “operational inefficiencies,” including 109 delays of five minutes or more from April through September 2019. Express still uses paper waybills and cash payments.

The IG also released a report on Thursday on the possibility of delays in the integration of Acela’s new train sets.

The Autobahn

— “Bill to allow Baltimore to collect millions in taxes on Uber, Lyft moves forward after yearlong delay.” Baltimore Sun.

— “Why Atlantans buy their produce on the subway.” POLITICO Magazine.

— “‘Every state should be passing a law to deal with this’: The danger of impaired school bus drivers.” Pew Stateline.

— “Byford, Cuomo’s popular subways chief, resigns (for good this time).” POLITICO New York.

— “Seattle commuters fuming over cost of getting an Uber or Lyft after mass shooting downtown.” Seattle Times.

The Countdown

DOT appropriations run out in 250 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 1,345 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 250 days.

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