August 25, 2008

The presidential candidates on public transit

Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden is a well-known, long-time supporter of public transportation -- particularly rail service, as he commutes daily from the Senate in Washington, D.C. to his home in Delaware via Amtrak. So that got me wondering how the two major-party picks at the top of the ticket stacked up on public transportation issues.

Turns out the difference is pretty clear. If you believe public transit can and should play an important part in helping to reduce our highest-in-the-world per-capita oil consumption, Barack Obama does as well, with a detailed transportation plan that supports the development and funding of high-speed rail service as well as modernizing aging urban transit systems and changing the tax code so that employees can't get higher benefits for driving and parking than if they take public transportation.

"Providing passengers with safe high-speed rail will have significant environmental and metropolitan planning advantages and help diversify our nation’s transportation infrastructure," Obama's plan notes. "Our domestic rail freight capacity must also be strengthened because our demand for rail transportation has never been greater, leaving many key transportation hubs stretched to capacity. Obama is committed to renewing the federal government’s commitment to high speed rail so that our nation’s transportation infrastructure continues to support, and not hinder, our nation’s long-term economic growth."

I couldn't find any policy statements on that even mentioned public transportation, although a number of newspaper articles highlight his long-held hostility toward intercity rail service. "In 2000, when he was chairman of the Senate Science, Commerce and Transportation committee, McCain killed $10 billion in capital funding for Amtrak. He denounced Amtrak as a symbol of government waste, claiming, 'There's only two parts of the country that can support a viable rail system - the Northeast and the far West,' " notes Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson. Currently on McCain's Web site, his plan to "reform our transportation sector" talks only about fuels to power private vehicles; there's literally not a word about mass transit.

In further searching, the only official reference to public transportation I could find was a blog post by McCain staffer Michael Goldfarb, who sneeringly referred to the possibility that a President Obama would tell Americans "to use carpools or public transportation whenever you can." As if that were some kind of awful thing.

"Particularly among rail advocates, McCain is well known as a consistent critic of Amtrak who has repeatedly tried to eliminate national passenger train service by slashing funding and proposing to dismember the national system into disparate regional entities," says LightRailNow!, which advocates for mass transit.


  1. Yea the selection of Joe Biden really did 't signale a stronger connection to transit options. And I didn't know McCain was so anti-rail so thanks for the info.

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