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Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Chasing the Headlines—Electronics in Cockpits Edition

Friday, November 6th, 2009

kid-stuck-outside-airplane-window-blooperTwo bills introduced yesterday in Congress would require pilots to avoid distractions when they’re flying planes.

Sounds like a good idea! And it sounds like Congress is surfing the headlines!

It’s what we call “wakerider” legislation, when Congress jumps in on the latest news, offering a “fix”—often too late.

Of course, it was just last week that some Northwest pilots overshot their destination by 150 miles because they were on their laptops, distracted.

Congress to the rescue!

S. 2732 would require the Federal Aviation Administration to prohibit the use of portable electronic devices in the cockpit of commercial aircraft during flight and to conduct a study of the safety impact of distracted pilots. S. 2745 would prohibit the use of personal wireless communications devices and laptop computers by the flight crew of commercial aircraft on the flight deck during flight.

We’re all opposed to airline pilots being distracted. And the incident in question has pretty much made clear that camping on your laptop while you’re flying a commercial airliner is a no-no.

Did anyone think it was OK before? And does anyone actually think that having a new law about it—after the fact—is going to make a difference in pilots’ behavior? When some pilots screw up again, will Congress pass a law barring pilots from screwing up?

The point here, of course, is that Congress is trying to assert its relevance to everything that happens in the country. Should these bills pass, every time a plane doesn’t crash, we’ll have our federal legislators to thank!

Congress to Cure Traffic Woes . . . and Give You a Pony!

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

horse on streetIt’s been a while since our last “and a pony” post, calling out bills in Congress that overpromise what our federal legislature can do.

“Congress is gonna give you a pony, too, sweetheart.” Get it?

Anyway, a clear candidate for the “and a pony” designation was introduced in the House yesterday. It’s H.R. 3725, a bill whose aim is, quite simply, “to relieve traffic congestion.”

Well! Thank goodness that’s done! Now if someone would just introduce a bill to cure cancer.

Actually, the “National Highway Chokepoint Congestion Relief Act” would create a Department of Transportation program to give grants to state departments of transportation in areas where traffic was really bad.

Strange set of incentives there, don’t you think? If a state fails to maintain its traffic systems well, it gets “free” money from the feds—that’s actually money from taxpayers in their own state and others, with local officials relieved of the burden of raising taxes.

So if I were a state official looking at this program, I would immediately stop any efforts to improve traffic in order to collect the federal handout. (Well, not immediately. Slowly and quietly, though . . . .)

Congress to the rescue! It’s going to solve those traffic problems, and, yes, get you that pony you always wanted.

Here’s the current vote on H.R. 3725, the National Highway Chokepoint Congestion Relief Act. Click to vote, comment, learn more or edit the wiki article about the bill.

Surprise! Free “Cash for Clunkers” Money is Popular

Friday, July 31st, 2009

The “Cash for Clunkers” program got popular fast. That shouldn’t be a surprise, of course. It’s a program that gives away money to buy cars.

Congress hears you, America, and the House of Representatives just moved to top up the tank on that program. It passed a bill this afternoon to spend another $2 billion on the program. That’s on top of the $1 billion the program has already burned through.

The bill has not yet been made available to the public – it’ll show up here later.

The Senate has to act on it, of course, and Politico reports it might be a bumpy road.

And at the risk of taking even more fun out of the spending spree, here are the numbers: The original $1 billion was about $10.24 per U.S. family or $3.27 per person. That means the $2 billion in additional spending adds $20.49 per family or $6.55 per person.

Total cost of “cash for clunkers” so far: a little over $30 per family. Just under $10 per person.

The money actually comes out of a program in the Recovery Act, so it’s not new spending and you probably won’t miss it. But it’s good to have an idea what we’re talking about.

If a friend of yours gets a new car under the “cash for clunkers” program, he or she probably owes you a couple trips to the grocery store or something.

Update: The additional “Cash for Clunkers” spending bill is available and up on the site now.

The Cruelest Torture for Guantanamo Detainees

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

The torture debate has taken a new twist. A bill introduced in Congress yesterday would subject Guantanamo detainees to one of the cruelest tortures known to man. Nobody should suffer a fate like this, but the bill does have a chance of passing.

H.R. 2503 would put Guantanamo detainees on the Department of Homeland Security’s no-fly list. It’s a form of mistreatment so ghastly, so inhuman – no one should have to suffer such a fate. Getting pulled out of line at the airport, the pat-downs, the puffer machines. Taking your shoes of so they can wand the bottoms of your feet.

H.R. 2503 is a plan so diabolical – I hadn’t imagined that Congress might do such a thing, but it just might.

Here is the current vote on H.R. 2503. Click to vote, torture others with your comments, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

Congress to TSA: No Cheating

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

H.R. 2464, introduced yesterday, would prohibit the Transportation Security Administration from giving advance notice to security screeners when they are going to be covertly tested.

Does it need saying that tipping off screeners undermines the value of testing? Does TSA need a law to make it not do that?

Here’s the current vote on H.R. 2464. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

Fly Senatorial Airlines – and Leave the Drinking to Us

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Yesterday, in his announcement about the auto industry and the ouster of GM’s CEO, President Obama said, “The United States government has no interest in running GM. We have no intention of running GM.” Sounds good.

That same day, a bill was introduced in the Senate to require air carriers to provide training for flight attendants and gate attendants regarding serving alcohol, recognizing intoxicated passengers, and dealing with disruptive passengers.

The President may think that the U.S. government can’t run the auto industry, but someone in Congress thinks the government can run the commercial air travel industry.

Here’s the current vote on S. 743. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article about the bill.

Federally Funded Highways – Tolls or No Tolls?

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Should some federally funded highways be exempted from the collection of tolls? Someone in Congress thinks so.

It seems like tolls are a good way to help see that the people who actually drive on them pay the cost of roads, but there may be good arguments for having no tolls, at least in some places. What are the arguments on either side? Of course, nobody likes to pay tolls, but the roads have to be paid for somehow.

Here’s the current vote on H.R. H.R. 1071, which would prohibit the imposition and collection of tolls on certain highways constructed using Federal funds. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article about the bill.

An Economic Recovery Plan – But What’s the Price Tag?

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

President-Elect Obama began to sketch his economic recovery plan in his weekly address yesterday. It’s long on spending but short on price tag.

The items he features in the talk include energy, roads and bridges, schools, broadband, and electronic medical records.

Of the items on the list, the energy idea seems to hold the most promise. Says the President-Elect: “[W]e will launch a massive effort to make public buildings more energy-efficient. Our government now pays the highest energy bill in the world. . . . We need to upgrade our federal buildings by replacing old heating systems and installing efficient light bulbs. That won’t just save you, the American taxpayer, billions of dollars each year. It will put people back to work.”

Any government spending “puts people back to work,” of course, but the tax dollars or debt “take people out of work” sooner or later. The trick is to do a better job with the money than people would do investing, spending, or saving their own money, so what’s taken out of the economy more than makes up for itself. Not easily done.

But bringing energy efficiency to the government could lower the price of energy across the board for a long time to come, and it could give consumers and producers a little more breathing room with some truly beneficial effects. It’s the most plausible part of the plan to me, but one can never be sure.

What one can be sure of at this point is that we don’t know how much spending the President-Elect proposes. That’s pretty important to know.

Incidentally, the Obama transition is asking you to share your thoughts.

Infrastructure Spending and the Bridge to Nowhere

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Given the likelihood of new infrastructure spending being in the economic stimulus package, it’s important to focus on whether that spending will be done well, because that doesn’t always happen.

Back in August 2007 – before this blog was around to trumpet the news – we did a little release about what Congress was spending to repair the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis.

Before adjourning for its August recess early Sunday, Congress quickly passed a bill spending $250 million to repair the 1,907-foot I-35 bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, an expenditure of about $130,000 per foot. This is more than three times the cost-per-foot of Alaska’s infamous “Bridge to Nowhere.”

Under the bill, the federal government will bear the full cost of I-35 repairs. The quarter-billion-dollar spending measure raced through Congress in about two days.

According to the Department of Transportation, the collapsed I-35 bridge was 1,907 feet long (just over one-third of a mile) and rose 64 feet above the Mississippi River. Two-hundred fifty million dollars amounts to about $130,000 per foot to rebuild the bridge.

That’s not the kind of infrastructure spending we should hope for this time around.

“The good news is that the I-35 bridge is a bridge to somewhere,” Harper said, “but it could probably be rebuilt for under a hundred million. The I-35 bridge is a third of the height of the Bridge to Nowhere but three times the cost per foot.”

(So clever, Jim – a “bridge to somewhere”!)

Here’s the full release.

Tony Sifford Touched Lives

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Dozens of press releases come out every day on some public policy issue or another. I picked one pretty much at random to write about a couple of months ago. It was an American Trucking Associations release touting the support of a professional truck driver for a piece of legislation. I thought that was a little gimmicky, but it’s far from the worst thing I’ve ever seen in public policy advocacy.

So up went a picture of Tony Sifford and a post about his support for some energy bill or other. (Gosh – remember when energy was the biggest issue going, and not government bailouts and the reeling economy? Those were the days – two months ago.)

Tragically, Tony was killed in an accident a month later.

I’ve been honored to see commenters on my post about his passing offering their condolences to his family and illustrating how Tony Sifford touched their lives. It’s a nice illustration of the value of every life and how we all rely on each other. Even a “random” truck driver from Hillsville, Virginia is a part of our community and someone who we’ll miss when he’s gone.

This would be a nice lesson for the people debating H.R. 6798 to remember. It’s a bill dealing with whether certain cancer diagnoses should be attributed to Agent Orange, and the people debating it right now are being needlessly cruel to one another.

Take a moment out, people, to remember your common bond with one another and the importance we have to one another – in ways you might not realize until it’s too late.