Just as the bottom has fallen out of the of the air travel market, so it has for local and regional transit and intercity rail travel. Transit farebox revenue has taken an immediate hit, and sales, state, and local taxes will likely decline as well. In total, transit agencies stand to lose between $26 billion and $38 billion over the next year.
Chicago has become a notorious rail bottleneck, responsible for delays that impede freight delivery, Amtrak, Metra passenger service, and even drivers trying to cross rail lines. Now, one of the worst tangles—the 75th Street corridor—is about to get a little better thanks in part to a federal grant.
The new federal “omnibus” appropriation bill, enacted March 23, provides over $86 billion for the U.S. Department of Transportation, a record funding amount and an increase of almost $10 billion from U.S. DOT’s FY ‘17 funding levels. Road, transit, and rail programs all see funding increases. The FY 18 funding levels show Congress’s commitment to robust federal investment for important state and local infrastructure projects.
Increased coal shipments to Washington State ports could significantly intensify congestion on both roads and rail lines. Two recent reports by Parametrix and the Sightline Institute discuss the impacts of increased shipments of fossil fuels (particularly coal) from Montana, Wyoming, and North Dakota to ports in the Pacific Northwest.
A March 2013 report by the Brookings Institution discusses the renaissance of American passenger rail and shows that ridership on Amtrak is at record levels and continuing to grow. Additionally, the report notes that Amtrak’s passenger growth was more than double that of domestic aviation (20 percent) since 1997. As a chart presented by FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo shows, rail is most competitive in corridors under 400 miles.
For trips between 100 and 500 miles, express buses, trains, and airlines are all vying for customers and contemplating the future of these shorter trips. At the same time, drivers are seeking relief from crowded highways and high gas prices. Add in the desire of travelers to be in constant internet and cell phone contact with the world, and intercity travel begins to seem a very competitive market. While air travel will continue to be the dominant mode for longer trips, and driving continues to offer maximum flexibility, rail and bus service upgrades in comfort and accommodations for electronic connectivity are attracting a larger number of travelers each year.
In late March, 15 transportation advocates embarked on a cross-state trip of Michigan using only local and regional transit. Along the way they met with local and state officials and transit advocates. Their experiences highlight both where transit is lacking in Michigan as well as how it could become an economic driver and preferred transportation choice in the future.