The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced a final rule, Friday, Dec. 2, that establishes a national drug and alcohol clearinghouse for commercial truck and bus drivers. The clearinghouse database will serve as a central repository containing records of violations of FMCSA’s drug and alcohol testing program by commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders. “An overwhelming majority of the nation’s freight travels by truck, and millions of passengers reach their destinations by bus, so creating a central, comprehensive, and searchable database of commercial motor vehicle drivers who violate federal drug and alcohol testing requirements has been a departmental priority,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “This system will be a new technological tool that will make our roads safer.” Once the clearinghouse is established, motor carrier employers will be required to query the system for information concerning current or prospective employees who have unresolved violations of the federal drug and alcohol testing regulations that prohibit them from operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV). It also requires employers and medical review officers to report drug and alcohol testing program violations. The drug and alcohol clearinghouse final rule annual net benefits are an estimated $42 million, with crash reductions resulting from annual and pre-employment queries by FMCSA-regulated motor carriers. “This is a major safety win for the general public and the entire commercial motor vehicle industry,” said FMCSA Administrator Scott Darling. “The clearinghouse will allow carriers across the country to identify current and prospective drivers who have tested positive for drugs or alcohol, and employ those who drive drug- and alcohol-free. Drivers who test positive for drugs or alcohol will no longer be able to conceal those test results from employers and continue to drive while posing a safety risk to the driving public.” The final rule requires motor carriers, medical review officers, third-party administrators, and substance abuse professionals to report information about drivers who:
Test positive for drugs or alcohol;
Refuse drug and alcohol testing; and
Undergo the return-to-duty drug and alcohol rehabilitation process.
Additionally, motor carriers will be required to annually search the clearinghouse for current employees, and during the pre-employment process for prospective employees, to determine whether a driver violated drug or alcohol testing requirements with a different employer that would prohibit them from operating a CMV. Federal safety regulations require employers to conduct pre-employment drug testing and random drug and alcohol testing. Motor carriers are prohibited from allowing employees to perform safety-sensitive functions, which include operating a CMV, if the employee tests positive on a DOT drug or alcohol test. In accordance with the Privacy Act of 1974 (5 U.S.C. § 552a), a driver must grant consent before an employer can request access to that driver’s clearinghouse record and before FMCSA can release the driver’s clearinghouse record to an employer. After registering with the clearinghouse a driver can review his or her information at no cost. Congress directed FMCSA to establish a national drug and alcohol clearinghouse as mandated by the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). The national drug and alcohol clearinghouse Final Rule goes into effect in January 2020, three years after its effective date. To view the drug and alcohol clearinghouse Final Rule, click this link. To learn more about the drug and alcohol clearinghouse, click on this link.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced the publication in the Federal Register of a Final Rule to help further safeguard commercial truck and bus drivers from being compelled to violate federal safety regulations. The Rule provides FMCSA with the authority to take enforcement action not only against motor carriers, but also against shippers, receivers, and transportation intermediaries.
“Our nation relies on millions of commercial vehicle drivers to move people and freight, and we must do everything we can to ensure that they are able to operate safely,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “This Rule enables us to take enforcement action against anyone in the transportation chain who knowingly and recklessly jeopardizes the safety of the driver and of the motoring public.”
The Final Rule addresses three key areas concerning driver coercion: procedures for commercial truck and bus drivers to report incidents of coercion to the FMCSA, steps the agency could take when responding to such allegations, and penalties that may be imposed on entities found to have coerced drivers.
“Any time a motor carrier, shipper, receiver, freight-forwarder, or broker demands that a schedule be met, one that the driver says would be impossible without violating hours-of-service restrictions or other safety regulations, that is coercion,” said FMCSA Acting Administrator Scott Darling. “No commercial driver should ever feel compelled to bypass important federal safety regulations and potentially endanger the lives of all travelers on the road.”
In formulating this Rule, the agency heard from commercial drivers who reported being pressured to violate federal safety regulations with implicit or explicit threats of job termination, denial of subsequent trips or loads, reduced pay, forfeiture of favorable work hours or transportation jobs, or other direct retaliations.
Some of the FMCSA regulations drivers reported being coerced into violating included: hours-of-service limitations designed to prevent fatigued driving, commercial driver’s license (CDL) requirements, drug and alcohol testing, the transportation of hazardous materials, and commercial regulations applicable to, among others, interstate household goods movers and passenger carriers.
Commercial truck and bus drivers have had whistle-blower protection through the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) since 1982, when the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) was adopted. The STAA and OSHA regulations protect drivers and other individuals working for commercial motor carriers from retaliation for reporting or engaging in activities related to certain commercial motor vehicle safety, health, or security conditions. STAA provides whistleblower protection for drivers who report coercion complaints under this Final Rule and are then retaliated against by their employer.
In June 2014, FMCSA and OSHA signed a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen the coordination and cooperation between the agencies regarding the anti-retaliation provision of the STAA. The Memorandum allows for the exchange of safety, coercion, and retaliation allegations, when received by one agency, that fall under the authority of the other.
For more information on what constitutes coercion and how to submit a complaint to FMCSA, see: www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/coercion. Please note: the Final Rule takes effect 60 days following its publication in the Federal Register.
This rulemaking was authorized by Section 32911 of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and the Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984 (MCSA), as amended.
The public, commercial drivers, motor carriers, and other industry members may file a safety, service, or discrimination complaint against a household goods moving company, bus, or truck company, including hazardous materials hauler or a cargo tank facility, by calling toll free 1-888-DOT-SAFT (1-888-368-7238) from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, Eastern Time. Complaints may also be submitted through FMCSA’s National Consumer Complaint website at: http://nccdb.fmcsa.dot.gov.
FMCSA was established as a separate administration within the U.S. Department of Transportation on January 1, 2000, pursuant to the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999. Its primary mission is to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses. For more information on FMCSA’s safety programs and activities, visit: http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various workplace, commercial motor vehicle, airline, nuclear, pipeline, environmental, railroad, public transportation, maritime, consumer product, motor vehicle safety, health care reform, corporate securities, food safety, and consumer financial reform regulations. Additional information is available at: http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education, and assistance. For more information, visit: http://www.osha.gov.
In a letter to Chairman Bill Shuster (R – Pa.) of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, DOT’s Transportation Secretary Anthony R. Foxx wrote the following.
Dear Mr. Chairman:
I write to express my appreciation for efforts thus far to achieve a bipartisan long-term surface transportation bill. For the first time in more than a decade, our Nation may gain the fiscal and policy certainty to allow us to get serious about building for the future. The Administration is encouraged by the bipartisanship demonstrated in both chambers throughout this process. We hope and expect that pattern will continue as you negotiate and advance a final conference agreement for the President’s consideration.
We especially appreciate the inclusion of some key provisions from the GROW AMERICA Act in both House- and Senate-passed proposals. Both versions of the bill make efforts to codify the Administration’s focus on permitting reform and its commitment to efficient project delivery. Both versions, like GROW AMERICA, also establish new and distinct programs focused on the unique needs of our freight networks. They also make progress toward the Administration’s goals to strengthen the Federal Transit Administration’s Buy America vehicle content requirements to boost U.S. manufacturing. We certainly hope that you build on these provisions, and you can count on the Department to help on these issues.
Now, as the House and Senate enter into conference on the remaining policy questions, I write to ask you to ensure the final product does justice to the needs of the American public, present and future. First and foremost, I urge you to work with the Administration to raise overall funding levels to ensure a brighter economic future and quality of life for the American people. Our Nation’s population is growing, our infrastructure is aging, and our economic position in the world continues to get stronger. These forces, taken together, present a huge opportunity for gain, yet also pose a huge threat if we continue to underinvest in the Nation’s infrastructure.
As you know, the Administration’s proposed six-year, $478 billion GROW AMERICA Act would ensure that our businesses can compete effectively in the global economy. The Department recently completed an analysis to determine the amounts the Federal government would need to invest in the years ahead to ensure that congestion and road conditions get no worse. Funding levels in the House version set the Nation on a course of worsening traffic and steadily deteriorating roadways. While the Senate version importantly provides an increase over current funding levels, even more is needed to reverse the declining condition of our surface transportation system and enable real improvement. As the President has said repeatedly, to compete in today’s economy, we must have a first-class transportation system that takes American goods to the world.
The Administration is concerned that both proposals significantly cut funding for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan program. The TIFIA program is a critical tool for financing roads, rails, and other surface transportation projects that help move people and goods and grow our economy. The program leverages Federal funds by attracting substantial private and other non-Federal investment to make important improvements to the Nation’s surface transportation system. Each dollar of Federal funds can provide up to $10 in TIFIA credit assistance and leverage $30 in transportation infrastructure investment. While both the Senate and House versions of the bill provide important flexibility to allow the Department to make use of carryover funds from previous years to supplement these amounts, the levels in these bills would be insufficient to sustain the TIFIA program at its current level of activity—much less manage the increased interest we are seeing in public-private partnerships. The TIFIA program is one of the Department’s best tools to encourage public-private partnerships, and predictable funding is essential in encouraging State and local governments to launch such projects. I urge the Conference not to hamstring the program by reducing its funding below current levels.
The bill also lacks any funding or authorization for the TIGER grant program. TIGER provides a unique opportunity for the Department to invest in road, rail, transit and port projects that promise to achieve national objectives. Since 2009, TIGER has provided nearly $4.6 billion to 381 projects in all 50 States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, including 134 projects to support rural and tribal communities. Demand for TIGER has been overwhelming, with the Department receiving more than 6,700 applications requesting more than $134 billion through the program’s seven rounds. GROW AMERICA requested $7.5 billion over 6 years for the highly successful program.
As rail is a critical component of our Nation’s surface transportation system, I applaud the Senate for working to include a rail title as part of the Senate version of the bill and we support inclusion of a rail title with increased funding as part of any final comprehensive surface transportation bill. Cities in the South and West are growing at a rapid pace and we believe that rail transportation will be a critical tool in alleviating worsening congestion in these communities. At the same time, our rail infrastructure in the Northeast and Midwest is in desperate need of modernization, including century-old rail tunnels that support the busiest rail corridor in the Nation. I also support the Senate’s proposal to include $199 million to help commuter railroads install critically important positive train control, but more is needed.
The funding levels for administrative activities included in the House version of the bill are not sufficient to administer the programs supported by the bill and required under existing law, and will likely make it impossible to staff programs at needed levels. While we always focus on managing as efficiently as possible given a resource-constrained funding environment, we are concerned that the funding levels proposed in the House version will, for instance, hamper efforts to successfully respond to the increasing demands on managing defect investigations and recalls, implement transit safety authorities, and support research in key safety areas, such as crash avoidance technologies and vehicle-to-vehicle technologies.
I urge you to help our Department raise, not lower, the bar on safety. Both versions of the bill contain several highly objectionable provisions that would undermine the safety of the Nation’s transportation system. For example, the House version limits our ability to recall dangerous and unsafe rental cars, thus allowing Americans to rent cars with known safety defects. Despite the fact that motorcycle deaths are on the rise, and that motorcycle helmets saved more than 1,600 lives in 2013, both versions prevent States from using Federal dollars to enforce motorcycle helmet laws. Similarly, the Senate version allows States to weaken mandatory incarceration requirements for repeat DUI offenders when qualifying for Federal grants. To differing degrees, the House and Senate versions require the Department to mask from the general public critical safety data about truck and bus companies. The House version also limits the Department’s ability to perform safety inspections of operating passenger motor coaches. Both the House and Senate versions create new obstacles to implementing the Department’s recent rule on electronically controlled pneumatic brake sy stem technology that will help reduce the risk and impact of accidents involving rail cars carrying high-hazard flammable liquids.
I ask the conferees to take a clear-headed look at these many safety-weakening measures and I renew our earlier call in GROW AMERICA for additional safety-enforcing authority. This authority includes sufficiently raising penalties for automobile manufacturers that do not fix defective and dangerous vehicles and equipment; allowing the Department to take immediate steps to take defective vehicles off the road; making motorcoach brokers accountable to many of the same safety rules as the rest of the motorcoach industry; and providing tools to help the Department better administer the transit safety program established under MAP-21. All of these safety provisions would result in lives saved.
PERMITTING AND PROJECT DELIVERY CONCERNS
The Administration shares the commitment in both versions of the bill to expedite project delivery and appreciates the inclusion of many Administration proposals to accomplish this goal. However, as currently drafted, some provisions, such as those encouraging further delegation of Federal authorities to States, could create inconsistency and confusion across the country, result in inefficiency in implementation, and lead to litigation likely to delay rather than expedite projects. We believe, in particular, the pilot provision delegating Federal authorities to States in the House version should be struck. Similarly, the Senate version includes three competing and contradictory sets of project delivery provisions with differing scopes and authorities, some of which would limit judicial review and weaken critical environmental laws. We are also concerned with a House provision that would exclude EPA from the proposed steering committee, which would undermine the intended streamlining and coordination effort.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide the Administration’s views on this important legislation. We look forward to working with Congress to address these and other important issues. Attached, you will find a more detailed listing of the Administration’s concerns across the House and Senate version of the bill. The Office of Management and Budget has advised that there is no objection, from the standpoint of the Administration’s program, to the submission of this letter to Congress.
I have sent similar letters to the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure; the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works; and the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.
If I can provide further information or assistance, please feel free to call me.
Anthony R. Foxx
APPENDIX: ADDITIONAL CONCERNS ON HOUSE AND SENATE VERSIONS
FEDERAL MOTOR CARRIER SAFETY ADMINISTRATION (FMCSA)
Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA): Both versions propose to hide enforcement data for trucking companies from public view until the completion of numerous and onerous studies and implementation of expensive programs with little or no safety benefit. The House version takes the additional step of removing motorcoach enforcement data from the public, which would disadvantage the traveling public from making informed decisions on bus companies. Currently, FMCSA and its state partners conduct 3,376,038 inspections a year, most of which discover safety violations and over 20 percent of which have violations so severe that they require the vehicle be immediately placed out-of-service.
Motorcoach En-Route Inspections: The House version would impose restrictive limits on bus safety inspections except under extreme situations. This would degrade and hamper important safety oversight by Federal, State and local inspectors by further limiting the Agency’s authority to conduct inspections while a bus is en-route. Inspections would be limited to origin and destination locations many of which are located on private property without sufficient area to safely conduct inspections. The already limited number of inspections conducted on passenger carrying vehicles would be further reduced.
Funding Levels: The House version cripples the Agency’s ability to execute congressional mandates while maintaining safety enforcement levels. The House funding flat lines administrative expense authorization at FY 2015 levels over the course of the next six years, which will reduce funding for safety inspectors, travel for safety inspections and audits, and undermine the ability of FMCSA to deploy new safety and registration systems that are critical to more effectively targeting its safety efforts and reducing the compliance burden for commercial motor vehicle operators.
Safety Improvement Metrics/Beyond Compliance: Both the House and Senate versions include proposals to implement a “Beyond Compliance” program. The Agency believes that any proposal must allow for flexibility as well as explicit authorization to allow for a “no-cost” contract and enforcement by third party contractors as part of any successful program. “Beyond Compliance” will require substantial verification of carriers and vehicles in order to apply SMS “credit” to carriers adopting voluntary safety programs, such as enhanced driver training programs. With more than 500,000 motor carriers and 4 million vehicles under FMCSA’s jurisdiction, if even 10 percent of these carriers seek credit, enforcement and verification will require significant budget and staffing resources that could divert funding from critical safety programs without appropriate consideration by the Conference Committee. Additionally, being able to restore the Safety Measurement System Public Display is tied to the implementation of this program.
Interim Hiring Standard: The House version would protect brokers and shippers from lawsuits for hiring unsafe carriers, if the carrier has met basic registration requirements, has the appropriate levels of insurance, and has a satisfactory rating. Only 10 percent of the carrier population has a satisfactory rating. The House provision would at the same time shield unscrupulous brokers and shippers and disadvantage the vast majority of carriers who have never had a federal Compliance Review and have not been issued a Safety Fitness Determination by FMCSA.
Teenage Drivers: The Senate version gives the Agency the option to authorize a pilot program to study the safety of allowing persons under the age of 21 to operate large trucks and buses on our Nation’s roads and highways. The House bill requires a pilot program be authorized after receiving recommendations of a task force required by the bill. The Department greatly prefers the flexibility provided by the Senate bill, knowing that research has shown that crash rates of drivers under 21 were almost four times the ratio of all large truck drivers in 2013. More than 89 percent of large truck drivers’ ages 18-20 who received a roadside inspection in 2013 were likely to be in an injury or property-damage-only crash the same year, as compared to 9.3 percent of all large truck drivers.
Hair Testing: Both the House and Senate versions would allow truck and bus companies to perform drug and alcohol testing using hair testing as an alternative to the standard urine testing for truck and bus companies, which creates inconsistency on the drug testing requirements across modes. The Senate provision is highly problematic as it places much of the responsibility on FMCSA for developing and implementing this program. FMCSA supports the House provision which tasks HHS with first establishing scientific and technical guidelines on hair testing.
Guidance Reform: The House version would add significant procedural requirements for truck and bus safety guidance documents that go far beyond current law. Meeting these requirements will require significant resources, hamper FMCSA’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances and restrict its ability to carry out its safety mission, all with little to no enhancement for safety.
Reform of Agency’s Grant Programs: Both versions would improve FMCSA’s grant programs, but the Department supports the changes in the Senate version. These changes were developed in cooperation with the law enforcement community and will allow greater efficiency in the grant process. The Department also supports the Senate’s proposal to re-purpose unobligated grants money into the next fiscal year’s grant purposes, which would encourage grantees to expend their safety dollars responsibly and efficiently.
Veterans Access to Trucking: The House version would allow Department of Veterans Affairs physicians to perform driver fitness examinations and issue medical certificates. However, this language would allow these physicians to operate outside of the MAP-21 mandated National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. The Department supports allowing these physicians to perform medical examinations, but urges the Conference Committee to mandate their inclusion on the Registry (while allowing for reasonable exemptions from certain knowledge testing) to address significant safety concerns and cutting down on heightened risk of fraudulent medical examinations.
NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMINISTRATION (NHTSA)
Funding levels: The House version proposes funding levels for the vehicle and behavioral safety programs that would significantly impair the Department’s ability to protect the driving public from dangerous vehicle defects and to research critical safety priorities, such as pedestrian and bicycle safety, impaired and drugged driving. With the significant increase in vehicle recalls over the last several years, the House funding levels would curtail the agency’s efforts to increase staffing levels, particularly in the Office of Defects Investigation, to meet these increased demands.
Civil Penalties: The House version provides no increase to NHTSA’s civil penalty cap to incentivize greater compliance by motor vehicle companies with Federal safety regulations. The Senate version only increases the cap to a maximum of $105 million compared to GROW which proposed raising the cap to a maximum of $300 million.
Safety of the driving public: Neither version provides NHTSA with the imminent hazard authority it sought, and that other transportation modes already have, in order to protect the traveling public. Such authority would authorize NHTSA to require manufacturers to take immediate action to respond to any condition of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment that creates the likelihood of death or serious injury to the public if not discontinued immediately, without prior notice or hearing. Examples of such imminent hazards could include automobile fires.
Motorcycle Safety: Both the House and Senate versions would frustrate many States’ efforts combating motorcycle fatalities by prohibiting States from using Federal dollars to enforce State motorcycle helmet laws. NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,630 motorcyclists in 2013.
Highway Safety: The Senate version would allow States with secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws to qualify for grants (Senate version, Sec. 34132), and weakening mandatory incarceration requirements for repeat DUI offenders (Senate version, Sec. 34104).
Recalls: The House version dilutes DOT/NHTSA’s recall authorities by diverting existing agency resources to build and run a system to house recall information for sellers of motor vehicle equipment that is currently being provided by commercial entities and inhibits the ability to recall dangerous and unsafe rental cars from certain vendors.
Highway Safety Plans: The Department opposes a Senate provision that would reduce the amount of time to review States’ annual highway safety plans (HSP) from 60 to 45 days. This reduction in review time does not result in a reduction in the amount of materials required to review, and would likely result in more conditional approval of highway safety plans.
Electronic Odometer Disclosures: The Senate version would allow States, without prior approval from the Secretary of Transportation, to provide for electronic odometer disclosures. As required by MAP-21, NHTSA is drafting regulations to allow for electronic odometer disclosures. NHTSA should be allowed to complete its rulemaking to establish a uniform process that supports interstate commerce before Congress considers this provision.
Emissions standards and fuel savings: The House version would undermine EPA and DOT’s fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas (GHG) program by requiring changes that would weaken compliance requirements for natural gas vehicles. This would undermine savings from the program which achieves real-world cost savings for American drivers, as well as GHG and fuel reductions. The program was crafted to be equitable with respect to individual technologies, balancing short- and long-term impacts, and this would upset that equity balance.
Auto Recalls: The Department supports the Senate’s adoption of two GROW AMERICA proposals that would improve motor vehicle recalls: (1) a pilot program to review the effectiveness of a State process to inform consumers of a recall, (2) and providing authority to require rental car companies and used car dealers to recall defective and unsafe vehicles. The Department supports the inclusion of these two provisions in a final bill.
Additional Safety Provisions: The Department supports the provisions that would impose uniform tire registration requirements (Senate), expand recall requirements (Senate), and extend free recall remedies for vehicles (House) and tires (Senate).
FEDERAL HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION (FHWA)
Administrative funding levels: The Senate version provides general operating expense (GOE) funding at levels that will support FHWA’s operations, enable FHWA to effectively oversee the Federal-aid program, and support State and local agencies in accelerating project delivery and adopting innovations. At the House GOE level, FHWA would need to reduce its current employment level—already cut in recent years— approximately 350 staff over six years (roughly 15 percent of the Federal-aid workforce). This would impair FHWA’s ability to effectively oversee the Federal-aid program and fully support our state and local partners. The Administration supports the inclusion of the Senate provision in the final bill.
MPO Empowerment and Reform: During this time of fiscal constraint, it is important that Federal dollars are leveraged to the greatest extent possible. However, neither the House nor Senate versions include incentives for Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) reforms that would require greater coordination among MPOs representing a single metropolitan area. Further the Senate version reduces the amount of funding suballocated to urbanized areas and the House version would shift leverage toward the State (and away from an urbanized areas), by having States provide obligation limitation to the large urbanized areas over a lengthy timeframe.
Federal Lands: Both versions expand eligibility for the Federal Lands Transportation Program from five partner agencies (under current law) to 19 Federal entities with land management responsibilities. However, neither bill sufficiently expands the program’s funding level to account for the new participating agencies. In addition, the House version p roposes a new tribal self-governance program yet provides no funding to support the costs.
Highway Safety: The Administration is concerned by the Senate version’s proposed 8 percent cut (vs. the FY15 enacted level) to the Highway Safety Improvement Program funding level.
Institutionalizing Innovation Success: Every State transportation agency has used eight or more of the 32 innovations promoted under FHWA’s Every Day Counts (EDC) program. The Department supports a Senate provision that would codify EDC program, ensuring that this valuable Federal-State innovation partnership will remain a driving force to improve our program delivery and transportation infrastructure for years to come. The Department supports the inclusion of this provision in a final bill.
Bike/Ped Safety. The Administration supports the Senate version’s increased consideration of bicycle and pedestrian access and safety in highway design. The Department supports the inclusion of this provision in a final bill.
Local Plans. The Administration supports the Senate version’s authorization to use loans and loan guarantees under approved Habitat Conservation Plans because such Plans have proven effective in facilitating transportation projects.
FEDERAL TRANSIT ADMINISTRATION (FTA)
Funding levels: The overall resource levels in the House version are insufficient, which would result in FTA furloughs and severe staffing constraints.
New Start Caps: The House version creates new matching restrictions related to the New Starts program that will reduce the federal share of projects and restrict use of Surface Transportation Program funds, which will disadvantage fast-growing communities and give an advantage to road projects.
Oversight: The Senate version includes prohibitions on FTA doing effective oversight to protect taxpayer money by limiting the frequency of reviews and mandating a delay before FTA can intervene.
MPOs: Transit representation on MPO Boards is reduced from MAP-21 levels in the Senate version, meaning that transit agencies will have a harder time competing for transit projects at the local level.
Bus and Bus Facilities: The Administration supports the increased funding levels in the Senate version for the Bus and Bus Facilities formula program and the proposed competitive bus program focused on age and condition of assets to be replaced; both would help revamp our nation’s aging buses and improve the rider experience.
Buy America: The Administration supports the effort to help domestic manufacturers and promote job growth within in the U.S. in both versions by increasing the Buy America percentage content requirements. However, the Administration still prefers a 100 percent domestic content requirement, as proposed in the GROW AMERICA Act.
State Safety Oversight (SSO): The Administration supports the House provision to bolster FTA’s safety oversight by allowing FTA to use state funds to intervene and help ineffective SSOs. The Department supports the inclusion of this provision in a final bill.
Hazardous Materials Grant Reform: DOT supports the House version’s proposal to reform the hazardous materials grant program by making several changes to ensure greater accountability on behalf of grantees and maximize the impact of grant funds. The proposed approach will greatly reduce administrative burden on PHMSA and Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness (HMEP) grantees. The Department supports the inclusion of this provision in a final bill.
Emergency Waivers: DOT supports the House’s National Emergency and Disaster Response Waivers for Federally Declared Emergencies, which would grant the Secretary authority to facilitate the movement of hazardous materials during federally declared disasters and emergencies. The Department supports the inclusion of this provision in a final bill.
Tank Car Phase-Out: DOT supports the House version’s expansion of the phase-out to additional tank cars, the prioritization of phase-outs by commodity, and the harmonization with Canada. However, this section would create regulatory confusion if it indeed applied to all tank cars used to transport flammable liquids. We recommend revising the scope to address only DOT-111 tank cars.
Comprehensive Oil Spill Response Plans: The House provision would expand the requirement for oil spill response plans to include all Class 3 Flammable liquids and remove quantity limits established to adequately address the risk present in a balanced manner. It also may add confusion between the authority provided in the Hazardous Materials Transportation Law and the Clean Water Act/Oil Pollution Act. The Senate version takes a more balanced approach.
FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION (FRA)
Positive Train Control: We praise the Senate for supporting wide-spread implementation of positive train control, arguably the most significant advancement in rail safety technology in more than a century. The $199 million in PTC funding for commuter rail lines will help mitigate the costs associated with the implementation of PTC technology. However, in the past two years, as part of the GROW AMERICA Act, the Administration has requested $825 million for this purpose.
Electronically-controlled Pneumatic Braking: Both versions create new obstacles to implementing DOT’s recent rule on electronically controlled pneumatic brake system technology that will help reduce the risk and impact of accidents involving rail cars carrying high-hazard flammable liquids. In addition, the live testing of ECP technology is extremely costly ($30-40 million estimate).
Passenger Rail: GROW AMERICA provided funding certainty for passenger rail that would help stakeholders more effectively plan and deliver rail projects. Neither version includes Passenger Rail in the Transportation Trust Fund and currently FRA has no reliable and consistent source of rail funds for applicants. These funds would be utilized expeditiously given the amount of planning that has been done on various rail projects and corridors across the country, such as Richmond (VA) to Raleigh (NC), for example.
Thermal Blankets: Both versions create regulatory uncertainty with respect to implementation of the thermal protection requirements of the HHFT rule. Existing regulations are performance based and the proposed language would limit the technologies used to provide thermal protection and could hinder the introduction of new technologies, and could also affect the ability of industry to meet retrofit timelines.
Infrastructure and Safety Grants: The Senate proposal affirms the success of FRA’s High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program by reauthorizing the program; the Senate provides additional resources through a new grant program to fund a wide range of planning, infrastructure, and safety projects. The Department supports the inclusion of the HSIPR program with additional resources in the final bill.
Blocked Crossings: Neither version includes provisions related to blocked highway-rail grade crossings, which are a significant concern for many communities, as they can impede the movement of emergency response vehicles and induce crossing violations and trespassing. Given increasing public interest in Federal action to address this issue, FRA would benefit from an authorization and funding to study blocked crossings to collect information pertaining to the severity, frequency, and other characteristics of railroad operations that block highway-rail grade crossings.
Amtrak: The Senate version includes a number of problematic concerns regardi ng Amtrak that would impact Amtrak’s ability to effectively manage its funds. Although both versions include some grants for State of Good Repair, which will help address some of the backlog for repairs, the Senate version’s authorized funding levels are insufficient to significantly improve the backlog that exists on the Northeast Corridor and elsewhere on the national network.
National Cooperative Rail Research Program (NCRRP): While the Department is supportive of the NCRRP, the GROW AMERICA Act proposed to fund it out of a separate mechanism; this Senate version would instead divert an excessive portion of FRA’s current $39 million research and development program to NCRRP.
Top fittings protections for pressure relief valves: This requirement could require significant modifications to tank car top fitting nozzles and as a result, could frustrate industry’s ability to comply with the retrofit timeline.
Recording Devices: The Department supports inclusion of regulations proposed by the Senate that would require all intercity passenger and commuter railroads to install audio and inward- and outward-facing image recording devices in controlling locomotive cabs and cab car operating compartments.
RRIF: The Senate version includes improvements that would make the RRIF program more accessible for borrowers by expanding eligibility. The Department supports the inclusion of this provision in a final bill. However, the Senate version also increases risk placed on taxpayer money by relaxing RRIF repayment and deferral terms.
Amtrak 5-Year Business Plan: We applaud the Senate for adopting the GROW AMERICA provision requiring Amtrak to develop 5-year business line and asset plans, which are intended to improve the transparency and delivery of Amtrak’s services. The Department supports the inclusion of this provision in a final bill.
Amtrak State Supported Route Committee: We support the Senate provision which reinforces actions the States, Amtrak, and FRA are pursuing administratively to form a body to assist states in assuming a greater role in the funding and management of state-supported Amtrak routes. The Department supports the inclusion of this provision in a final bill.
Multimodal Discretionary Freight Program: Both versions of the bill strengthen the freight provisions enacted in MAP-21, and also propose a program to fund impactful freight projects, as we advocated for in GROW AMERICA. However, freight movements are not confined to highways. We therefore urge Congress to enact a robust freight program that provides additional flexibility to fund projects across all modes, in particular intermodal connectors. The Administration also strongly believes that only through a discretionary grant program can we fund critical needs in multistate freight corridors. Formula apportionments are less likely to have a meaningful nationwide impact.
Shifts constrained research dollars to deployment purposes: Research programs are intended to support advanced technologies that are still in the development and test phases, but the House version sets aside funding for a limited number of large-scale deployment projects supporting technologies that are already eligible for funding elsewhere in the version, effectively reducing funding for other priority highway research areas by roughly 30 percent.
Intelligent Transportation Systems: The Senate version reduces the ITS Research Program by $30 million in order to establish an ITS Deployment Grants program, reducing ITS research support for highway operations, transit, Accessible Transportation Technologies and connected automated vehicles.
Research Ombudsman: The Senate version includes a provision that would establish research ombudsman with unprecedented independent authority to challenge research and give any party, including regulated industries, the ability to inhibit the Department’s ability to explore critical innovations.
Port Performance Act: The Senate version requires the Bureau of Transportation Statistics to collect new metrics from a defined set of ports, which would require rulemakings, create a costly reporting burden on private operators, and require BTS to devote over 10 percent of its budget to implementation, which would put baseline freight-related projects at risk.
Bureau of Transportation Statistics: The Senate version would remove funding stability from BTS, undermining the Commodity Flow Survey, the baseline program required for successful implementation of the freight and performance management programs; and similar activities.
Assigns ITS and UTC Programs to FHWA: The Senate version directs that the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Research and University Transportation Centers (UTC) programs be administered by FHWA instead of OST-R, reducing the intentionally multimodal nature of those programs and of OST-R, and undermining OST-R’s coordination and technology missions. Transfer to FHWA would have a direct impact on FHWA FTE and administrative costs.
National Cooperative Freight Transportation Research Program (NCFRP): Neither version re-establishes the NCFRP, which would enable multi-modal user-generated research to support improved freight movements.
SEATTLE – Because the future of our economy rests on a strong transportation system to move materials and products, today, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx released the draft National Freight Strategic Plan, which offers specific policy proposals and solutions to address the growing challenges of moving freight in this country. Now open for public comment, the draft Plan is an essential step for continuing to support the nation’s economy through the efficient movement of goods, while recognizing and responding to future infrastructure challenges. He was joined by Senator Maria Cantwell at Seattle Public School Headquarters.
Every day, millions of trucks, trains, aircraft, and ships move across the United States, transporting and delivering materials and products that are essential to our way of life and our economy. According to the most recent data released from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, freight shipments last month reached an all-time high and were 30.4 percent higher than the recent low in April 2009 during the recession. While this increase in freight traffic is good news for our economy, concerns remain that our infrastructure cannot accommodate continued growth: in the next 30 years the population of the United States is expected to grow by 70 million people, and freight traffic is expected to increase by 42 percent by 2040.
“With an increasingly competitive and complex global marketplace and a deteriorating transportation infrastructure that is unfortunately showing the effects of age and underinvestment, the need for us to have a national freight plan could not be more urgent,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.
This draft Plan is a first-of-its-kind document that takes a comprehensive look at the Nation’s freight needs and future challenges and offers a roadmap for improvements. It proposes solutions and strategies to address the infrastructure, institutional, and financial bottlenecks that hinder the safe and efficient movement of goods. It also identifies many successful programs already in place to improve freight planning and investment, and proposes new programs and ideas that could make more progress possible. Importantly, it also recognizes the benefits of establishing a strong freight program in the next reauthorization bill.
“Congestion on rails, surface streets, and at our ports across the Pacific Northwest costs businesses billions of dollars a year and gives an edge to competitors around the globe. The National Freight Strategic Plan means places like Seattle and Tacoma will be part of our national strategy to quickly move products through traffic congested areas,” said Senator Cantwell.
These strategies include efforts to reduce congestion and increase efficiency while improving safety and reliability, and reducing adverse impacts on the environment and communities. This will include incorporating new technologies allowing for better quality data collection and faster analysis of freight routes, travel times, and infrastructure capacity. It also means breaking down institutional impediments, such as conflicting priorities at the Federal, State and local levels, and unnecessarily complex and lengthy permitting and approval processes. Building on existing efforts to improve coordination and synchronization across various levels of government, the draft Plan presents opportunities and potential pathways to enhance freight planning.
Specific strategies include:
Ensure dedicated freight funding: The draft Plan emphasizes the importance of a dedicated freight program that would improve the movement of freight and meet regional economic demand and would require or incentivize State Freight Advisory Committees, State Freight Plans, and cross-jurisdictional/cooperative planning. The GROW AMERICA Act would provide $18 billion over six years through two dedicated, multimodal freight grant programs for targeted investments.
Identify major trade gateways and multimodal national freight networks/corridors: U.S. DOT is releasing a draft Multimodal Freight Network (MFN) map to inform planners, private sector stakeholders, and the public about where major freight flows occur and where special attention to freight issues may be most warranted. U.S. DOT and the U.S. Department of Commerce have monitored and analyzed major trade gateways and freight corridors for decades, but the draft MFN combines the most critical modal components and shows the connections between them.
Facilitate multijurisdictional, multimodal collaboration and solutions: U.S. DOT will continue its work to support local, State, and interagency collaboration, including close cooperation with port authorities, private sector stakeholders, and agencies in Canada and Mexico; sharing best practices for freight planning; supporting advisory committees and public forums with stakeholders; and encouraging effective use of funding available at the national level.
Ensure availability of better data and models: U.S. DOT will continue to develop and deploy newer and more advanced freight data resources to the planning community and advance the measurement and analysis of transit times for different commodities from a multimodal, origin-to-destination perspective. Congress could enhance U.S. DOT’s authority to collect intermodal freight data by giving U.S. DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics the authority to assemble intermodal freight movement data under the Intermodal Transportation Data Program, as proposed in the GROW AMERICA Act.
Improve safety and support the adoption of new transportation technologies: U.S. DOT is undertaking new and innovative efforts to improve freight transportation safety. The Department recently announced the formation of a National Coalition on Truck Parking to improve commercial driver safety. U.S. DOT will also efforts to adopt new and exciting transportation technologies, including autonomous vehicles that promise to allow for safer and more reliable freight transportation.
Develop the next generation freight transportation workforce: U.S. DOT is committed to promoting economic opportunity through high-quality transportation jobs as part of the President’s Ladders of Opportunity Initiative. Efforts include developing freight skills for State transportation agency and MPO staff through a growing body of resources and guidance on freight planning, and pushing for greater authority to develop workforce plans.
The most recent surface transportation reauthorization law, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), directed the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop a National Freight Strategic Plan laying out a course of action to meet National Freight Policy goals designed to improve the movement of freight in the U.S. The Department welcomes the public to provide feedback and comment on the draft National Freight Strategic Plan. To submit your thoughts and to learn more about the draft plan, visit www.transportation.gov/freight.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Sept. 30 issued a proposed rule that would require public transportation agencies to monitor and manage their capital assets to achieve and maintain a state of good repair. Identifying and prioritizing maintenance and repair needs of transit vehicles and infrastructure could lower costs, increase reliability and performance, reduce travel delays for passengers, promote resilience, and yield system safety improvements.
“Transit ridership is rising, public transportation equipment and infrastructure are aging, and there is a growing backlog of transit-related capital maintenance needs with limited funding available,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Better and more efficient management of transit assets is a smart way to get more from our investments while ensuring we maintain the safe, reliable and accessible transit service the American public deserves.”
The proposed rule would require public transportation agencies to develop a Transit Asset Management (TAM) Plan that determines the condition of its capital assets, including the system’s equipment, rolling stock, infrastructure, and facilities. To reduce the burden on small operators, the proposed rule offers a two-tiered approach for the TAM Plan requirement. Small transit providers operating 100 or fewer vehicles in revenue service and no rail fixed-guideway service and all subrecipients under the Rural Area Formula Program would be allowed to participate in a Group TAM Plan that would be developed by a State or other direct recipient of FTA funding.
The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) directs FTA to create a TAM System to help transit agencies achieve a better and more informed balance between system preservation and expansion projects, with a strong focus on improving safety. The TAM System is intended to provide a transit agency with a comprehensive understanding of how the condition of its capital assets may impact the safety of its system.
“Strategic and targeted investments to replace and rehabilitate aging transit infrastructure are needed to bring the Nation’s bus and rail systems into a state of good repair,” said FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan. “Given the diversity of transit systems, from complex urban networks to small operators in rural communities, the proposed rule offers a flexible approach for public transportation providers to better manage and maintain their assets.”
The proposed rule would also define the term “state of good repair,” establish state of good repair performance measures, and have transit agencies set performance targets based on those measures, which they can then use to prioritize limited capital investment funding. In addition, transit agencies would be required to report new information to the National Transit Database.
Insufficient funding combined with inadequate asset management practices have contributed to an estimated $86 billion transit in state of good repair backlogs nationwide that continues to grow with reduced levels of investment. To address this need, the Administration’s multi-year transportation funding bill, the GROW AMERICA Act, proposes a total of $7.6 billion in fiscal year 2016 to support FTA’s state of good repair efforts, with incremental increases in each fiscal year through the end of the Act’s authorization period.
Public comments on the proposed rule are accepted through Nov. 30, 2015.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced a proposed rule to establish a Public Transportation Safety Program under FTA’s new safety oversight authority established by the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). The proposed rule would create an overall framework for FTA to monitor, oversee and enforce safety in the public transit industry, and is based on the principles and practices of Safety Management Systems (SMS).
“Every day, millions of Americans take public transportation to get to work, school, medical appointments, and other important destinations,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “This new program will help us ensure that transit continues to be a safe way to get around, and a safe place to work.”
The proposed rule would implement FTA’s authority to conduct inspections, audits, and examinations; testing of equipment, facilities, rolling stock, and the operations of a public transit systems; and for FTA to take appropriate enforcement actions, including directing the use or withholding of Federal funds and issuing directives and advisories. The rule would establish SMS as the foundation for FTA’s safety program, which focuses on organization-wide safety policy and accountability, proactive hazard identification, and risk-based decision-making.
The proposed rule also defines the contents of a National Public Transportation Safety Plan (National Safety Plan), which FTA expects to publish in a separate Federal Register notice for public review and comment in the next several months. The National Plan will include safety performance criteria for all modes of public transportation, minimum safety performance standards for transit vehicles used in revenue operations, the definition of “state of good repair,” a Safety Certification Training Program, and other content determined by FTA.
“With transit ridership at its highest levels in generations, and our nation’s transit agencies facing increased pressure to meet the demand for service, we must continue to ensure that safety remains the top priority,” said FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan. “This rulemaking is a major step forward in establishing FTA’s safety regulatory framework, as all future safety-related rules, regulations and guidance will be informed by the Public Transportation Safety Program.”
Public comments on the proposed rule must be received by October 13, 2015.
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) held its first hearing of the 114th Congress yesterday, as it prepared to draft a new surface transportation bill to replace the existing MAP-21 extension that expires May 31.
In his testimony to the committee, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx warned that the United States is falling behind in innovation and economic competitiveness because of the condition of its aging transportation infrastructure.
With the support of the SMART Transportation Division, AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Edward Wytkind has written a letter to Administrator Peter Rogoff of the Federal Transit Administration.
The letter, on behalf of the 32 member union’s that make up the TTD, offers support of the agency’s efforts to regulate the safety of public transportation that was authorized by Congress in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), that was signed into law by President Obama on July 6, 2012.
Funding surface transportation programs at over $105 billion for fiscal years 2013 and 2014, MAP-21 is the first long-term highway authorization enacted since 2005.
The text of Wytkind’s letter is below.
Dear Administrator Rogoff:
On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, I write in response to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) addressing several issues relating to the new Public Transportation Safety Program (National Safety Program) and the requirements of the new transit asset management provisions as established by MAP-21. By way of background, TTD consists of 32 affiliated unions, including several that represent public transportation workers.
We support the agency’s efforts to carry out its authority to regulate the safety of public transportation, a new and important responsibility authorized by Congress in MAP-21. TTD expressed support for this authority when the Administration proposed it in 2009 and when Congress considered its inclusion in MAP-21. We appreciate that FTA published an ANPRM to begin implementing this new responsibility, and we offer the following recommendations on the Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan specifically.
As the agency explains, 49 USC § 5329(d)(1) requires transit agencies receiving § 5307 Urbanized Area Formula funds or § 5311 Rural Area Formula funds to certify that they have in place a Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan (Transit Agency Safety Plan or Plan). These Plans must include certain minimum elements, such as requiring that the board of directors approve the Plan and any modifications; establishing performance targets based on national safety performance criteria and state of good repair standards; and creating a comprehensive staff training program for operators and those responsible for safety.
We believe these Plans will help improve safety, but in order for them to be truly effective and complete, agencies must incorporate the input of transit labor. Transit workers are on the frontlines of the day-to-day operations and know better than anyone the system’s schedules, routes and technology and employee responsibilities. Their knowledge of the unique and real-world challenges of the workplace offers invaluable expertise that can be helpful in identifying and evaluating system safety risks, finding ways to minimize public exposure to hazards and assisting a transit agency in meeting the other statutory minimum Plan requirements. Transit agencies would be hard-pressed to replicate the unique knowledge of frontline workers, and we believe transit labor must play a significant role in the creation and adoption of these Plans.
We also recommend FTA to require transit agencies to address a growing concern for this sector: assaults on transit workers. These workers regularly interact with the public in their day-to-day tasks and are vulnerable to abuse from unruly passengers. In particular, threats of physical danger to bus drivers are now commonplace, causing unacceptably high rates of injury and worker anxiety. These assaults also pose serious safety risks to bus riders, as passengers may become involved in an altercation when the violence spreads within the close confines of a bus. And when attacks occur while a bus is in operation, the driver may become distracted and lose control, posing danger to passengers, pedestrians and other motorists on the road.
Various solutions to this problem have been proposed, such as vehicle design changes that include the installation of plexiglass partitions to separate drivers from passengers, as well as the presence of uniformed police officers aimed at helping to deter attackers and improving enforcement. Given that violence is a serious safety concern, FTA should require transit agencies to address this issue in their Transit Agency Safety Plans.
In addition, we note that bus operators also face occupational health problems that may cause safety concerns. Drivers are sometimes forced to work several continuous hours without a restroom break, as many transit agencies do not provide suitable time or facilities for drivers to use a restroom. As a result, drivers may not be focused solely on the road, potentially jeopardizing the safety of passengers and other drivers. Transit agencies across the country must begin addressing this concern and FTA should require that they include in their Plans steps to correct this problem.
With regard to the implementation of these Plans, FTA seeks comments on transit agencies’ use of a risk-based analysis approach. Specifically, FTA states that “a risk-based analysis can be applied in analyzing human factors such as employee fitness for duty (e.g… not suffering from acute or cumulative fatigue…).” In order to be well-informed, a fitness for duty risk-based analysis must assess all underlying health and fitness contributors, organization of work and specified safety outcomes. For example, we agree that fatigue poses serious safety concerns, but transit agencies adopting a risk-based analysis approach must assess the underlying factors contributing to fatigue, such as long split shifts or loopholes that contribute to excessive hours on the road. Without full consideration of all factors, an analysis may be shortsighted and compromise the effectiveness of a Transit Agency Safety Plan.
Our nation’s public transportation systems play a vital role in connecting Americans to their place of work, grocery stores, medical facilities, and countless other destinations. With the support of the workers we help represent, public transit agencies provided more than 10 billion unlinked passenger trips in 2011, indicative of the ridership increases we’ve seen in recent years. As Americans continue to rely on public transit for mobility, these systems must operate at the highest standard possible to ensure the safety of its riders. The development of Transit Agency Safety Plans will help improve transit safety if they meet the requirements set by FTA and those we recommend above.
We appreciate the opportunity to comment on this ANPRM, and we hope FTA will take our views into consideration.
U.S. governors and mayors are pushing Congress to quickly reauthorize long-term legislation to fund transportation projects across the country, fearing that any lapse in funding could disrupt existing projects and hurt local economies.
Testifying at a Tuesday hearing before the House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, representatives of states, cities and the transportation industry urged lawmakers to act before the current funding law expires at the end of September.
It’s not all we wanted, but, maybe more important, it’s not as bad as it could have been.
Given the polarization of this Congress, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century – MAP-21 – is as good a new transportation authorization bill as we could have hoped for. Passed by bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate June 29, President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.
This is what MAP-21 does as it applies to bus, commuter rail, intercity passenger rail and freight rail:
* It increases federal expenditures for federal transit programs – bus and commuter rail – beginning in October and continuing through September 2014. Within those numbers, however, is a reduction in bus and bus facilities spending, which is a victory of sorts since an earlier version sought to zero out such spending.
* It allows transit systems operating fewer than 100 buses in peak service to use a portion of their capital grants for operating expenses. This will allow money for smaller, cash-strapped systems to keep buses on the road and return furloughed drivers to work. But, sadly, larger bus system do not gain such flexibility — even during periods of high unemployment.
* It extends a $17 billion federal loan program for transit and freight rail operators, making, for example, up to $350 million available to the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) for transit improvements.
* It grants authority to the Department of Transportation to create a national safety plan for all modes of public transportation, which will result in minimum standard safety performance standards for systems not currently regulated by the federal government. These safety performance standards will include establishment of a national safety certification training program for employees of federal- and state-owned transit system.
* It requires the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to establish a national registry of medical examiners within one year, and requires employers periodically to verify the commercial driver license status of employees.
* It provides 80 percent in federal match dollars for transit systems to develop and carry out state safety oversight programs. State oversight will include review, approval and enforcement of transit agency safety plans, including audits by the Federal Transit Administration.
* It scraps at attempt to eliminate overtime and minimum wage provisions for van drivers whose routes cross state lines.
* It strengthens Buy America requirements for all new bus and passenger-rail rolling stock and other capital expenditures, which means more American jobs.
* It leaves in place a requirement that positive train control be implemented on all track carrying passenger rail — commuter and Amtrak — by Dec. 31, 2015. It does, however, reduce the PTC installation requirement for freight railroads, providing that PTC to be installed on fewer than 40 percent of main line trackage by Dec. 31, 2015, with 60 percent (freight only trackage) continuing to use existing train control systems.
* Importantly, it does not include a provision sought by conservatives that would have blocked federal funds for operation of Amtrak’s long-distance trains in 27 states, nor does it include a provision that would have had the same effect by denying federal funds for subsidizing food and beverage service on long-distance trains.
* Also, on the positive side for Amtrak, it provides a new federal grant program to improve or preserve Amtrak routes exceeding 750 miles, and it makes Amtrak eligible for other federal grants on corridor routes and funds intended to help ease highway congestion. Other Amtrak operating and capital grants are provided in separate legislation.
* A provision that originated in the Senate to eliminate almost 75 percent of Alaska Railroad federal funding and the $6 million in congestion and air quality mitigation funding for Amtrak’s Downeaster train in New England was amended. The Alaska Railroad funding now will be cut by 13 percent in each of the next two years by applying a new funding formula, and the air quality mitigation funding will continue for the Downeaster.
* It does not increase weight and length limits for trucks on federal aid highways – which would adversely impact rail traffic and rail jobs – but does allow an extension for current higher weights on some highway corridors while another study on the impact of liberalizing truck weight and length limits is conducted.
“Even though it has shortcomings from what we would have preferred, our members are better off with the compromise. Had there been no bill, we may have faced the undermining of public transportation by conservatives who want to push public transportation’s expense to the fare box and those who can least afford it,” said UTU National Legislative Director James Stem.
The Federal Transit Administration has created a website to provide more information on MAP-21. Click below to view the website: