The home transport bill a loser for consumers
The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee has just put in place a five-year surface transportation reauthorization bill known as the INVEST in America Act. The giant package remains separate from the Biden administration’s efforts to adopt an ‘infrastructure and jobs’ plan and is a marked separation from the recent bipartisan highway bill adopted by the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works.
Even if it doesn’t stand a chance in the Senate as it is currently drafted, American consumers and small businesses should understand how problematic it is. This is especially true when you consider the need to help the economy recover. And nowhere is it perhaps clearer than in how the bill treats private freight railways, which ironically need nothing from legislation.
As the American Consumer Institute has documented over the years, rail is critically important to the US economy in ways few realize. Thanks to smart, two-party regulatory reform that largely freed the industry from price regulation some 40 years ago, consumers today enjoy some $ 10 billion in annual savings. In short, less regulation has worked for consumers.
Unlike the multitude of highways or transit advocates, railways do not need federal subsidies, while trucking relies on government-built highways and bridges.
Yet the majority of the House, apparently disturbed by the fact that the railways are solvent and have a productivity three times higher than in the past, has done everything possible to appease narrow lobbying interests. As the largest railway union recently proclaimed in celebrating the fact that Congress is seeking to pass its agenda in its entirety: “Representatives have also heard our voices regarding almost every concern we have regarding the current state of the rail industry – the size of the crew, length of trains, usefulness of Positive Train Control and Safety Investigations, to name a few.
A long list indeed.
As the world moves towards self-driving vehicles, perhaps most disturbing is the continued effort to lock down the current operating practice of two people sitting inside a locomotive cab forever in the future. While it’s tempting to assume that two-person crews are automatically safer than one-person crews, there is absolutely no empirical evidence to support it.
In May 2019, the Federal Railroad Administration, the national regulator for railway safety, finally decided that regulation was not needed in this area. The FRA concluded that this would only dampen investment and innovation, even if union leaders were more worried about their leadership positions than their members demanding a federal mandate. The previous administration itself said in 2016 that it “… cannot provide reliable or conclusive statistical data to suggest whether one-person crew operations are generally safer or less secure than operations. crew to several people “.
Rather than improving safety, requiring two-person crews could make rail operations more dangerous by crippling railways’ ability to control costs and fund equipment upgrades. “A law or regulation that constantly requires a minimum crew size of two – especially where there is no evidence that one-person crews are less safe – can only hinder further reduction. accidents caused by human error, ”he added. said Patrick McLaughlin, Principal Investigator at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
In addition, requiring teams of two people, even though technological improvements allow different operations, would significantly increase labor costs, limit the competitiveness of railways against intermodal competitors and increase shipping costs. Ultimately, many of these costs would be borne by consumers.
Ironically, this would also lead to a greater reliance on trucks, which are many times more dangerous than rail. While they are certainly essential to the economy, trucks are also much higher emitters of greenhouse gases, which policymakers seek to reduce. Thus, the size of the crew is also at odds with the environmental goals of the majority.
As a Marc Scribner Reason Foundation Fellow argued recently, “putting rail at a disadvantage over trucking through a train crew size mandate would increase the emissions intensity of the transportation sector.” Compared to trains, trucks create three times more pollution per tonne, and overloaded trucks can reduce the life of roads from 20 to seven years old. What is the point of putting more trucks on the road unnecessarily when it will only require additional infrastructure expenditure?
Members of the Transport Committee have a lot of work to do on their flawed bill. A first step, across political allegiances, should be to abandon this crew-sized effort once and for all. Brookings researcher Cliff Winston is right when he said, “Policymakers should stop trying to micromanage current rail operations and should help rail move into a future of self-reliance.” “
Despite the fact that the rails kept the supply chain moving during COVID, by restoring rail regulations, the House’s INVEST in America law will be unnecessarily harsh on the recovering economy, even worse on the environment, and , by increasing transport costs, bad for consumers.
Citizens deserve much better from DC.
Steve Pociask is President and CEO of the American Consumer Institute, a not-for-profit education and research organization. For more information on the Institute, visit www.TheAmericanConsumer.Org or follow us on Twitter @ConsumerPal.