Delaware Senator Dares to Utter the Word “Transit”

carper.jpgEven as the price of gas turns into a hot-button campaign issue, the presidential candidates are studiously avoiding the "T" word -- transit -- for the most part.

But the notion of driving less and riding more is bubbling up, even in the corridors of Congress. We turn to Delaware Senator Thomas Carper, who made use of a floor debate on reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration to deliver the following remarks last week:

I ride the train back and forth most days. I live in Delaware, and I go back and forth. As my colleague, the Presiding Officer, knows, I go back and forth almost every night to Delaware. A strange thing is going on with respect to passenger rail ridership in this country.

I used to serve on the Amtrak board when I was Governor of Delaware, and every year we would see ridership go up by a couple of percentage points. We would struggle, try to raise money out of the fare box to pay for the system and the expansion of the system. Well, the first quarter of this fiscal year, ridership at Amtrak is up 15 percent. Revenues are up by 15 percent. People are starting to realize that maybe it makes sense to get out of our cars, trucks, and vans and take the train or take transit. Transit ridership is up again this fiscal year more dramatically than it has been in some time.

The speech may be buried in the Congressional Record (search for S3479), but who else in the Senate is connecting the dots between reducing dependence on oil and investing in rail? More from Carper, including some astute observations that touch on land use, after the jump. (Be sure to read the last paragraph.)

Americans are beginning to literally buy homes in places that are closer to opportunities for transit -- for rail, for bus, for subways, for the metro systems. As we have seen the drop in home prices across the country -- in some cases, very dramatic -- among the surprises, at least for me, is to see housing prices stable and in some cases actually going up in places where people can buy a home and live and get to work or wherever they need to go to shop without driving to get there.

I don't know how gullible we think the American voters are to suggest to them that we are going to have this holiday on gas taxes, Federal gas taxes, for 3 months or for 6 months, maybe to get us through the next election, and then when the elections are over we will go ahead and reinstate the gasoline tax to what it has been even though in doing that we might be depleting further the money available for transportation improvements. I don't know how foolish we think the American voters are. They are a lot smarter than that. They are a lot smarter, maybe, than we give them credit for being.

I think in this country people are crying out for leadership. They are calling out for Presidential leadership, whether it is from our side of the aisle or the Republican side. People want leaders who are willing to stay out of step when everybody else is marching to the wrong tune, and I would suggest that the wrong tune is to suspend the Federal gasoline tax and at the same time not replace the dollars that would otherwise go into the transportation trust fund to fix our dilapidated, our decaying transportation system. Voters in this country deserve better leadership from us. I am determined, I am committed to making sure we provide and pay for that.

Before I close, there are a lot of good ideas for things we ought to do. I mentioned, tongue in cheek, that we ought to provide more R&D investment for a new generation of lithium batteries for plug-in hybrid vehicles. I say, tongue in cheek, we ought to use the Government purchasing power to commercialize advanced technology vehicles. We are doing that. I said with tongue in cheek we ought to provide tax credits to encourage people to buy highly efficient hybrid vehicles and very low diesel-powered vehicles that are efficient. We are doing that.

There other things we need to do too. We need to invest in rail service. We can send from Washington, DC, to Boston, MA, a ton of freight by rail on 1 gallon of diesel fuel. I will say that again. We could send from Washington, DC, to Boston, MA, a ton of freight by rail on 1 gallon of diesel fuel. But we as a government choose not to invest in freight rail and, frankly, to invest very modestly in passenger rail. It is a highly energy-efficient way to move people and goods.