AAA Gets an Earful From Members About Equality for Bikes

In July of last year, when AAA launched their roadside bicycle repair service, cyclists got a warm fuzzy feeling for a minute and thought AAA was about as bike-friendly as an automobile organization could be. That bubble burst in July when AAA Mid-Atlantic President and CEO Don Gagnon editorialized that highway trust fund money should be reserved just for highways [PDF].

This trail goes right past the AAA HQ in Heathrow, Florida. Bike/ped advocates say AAA is trying to take dedicated funding away from trails. Image: ##http://www.americantrails.org/02symposium/mobileNTS02.html##American Trails##
This trail goes right past the AAA HQ in Heathrow, Florida. Bike/ped advocates say AAA is trying to take dedicated funding away from trails. Image: ##http://www.americantrails.org/02symposium/mobileNTS02.html##American Trails##

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy shot back:

“Highway Trust Fund” is a misleading name dating to the 1950s and the founding of the Interstate system. It is a transportation trust fund that has supported transit for 40 years and trails, bicycling and walking for nearly 20 years.

Since September, RTC President Keith Laughlin has engaged in correspondence with AAA representatives, asking them to change their position. AAA insists they’re not trying to de-fund bike programs – they just think those programs should be funded through general revenues, not the trust fund. “That’s like, after 20 years of stellar job performance in a highly specialized field with scant job prospects, your boss fires you but says he hopes you find another job somewhere else,” says RTC.

This morning, Rails-to-Trails staff and members took their message directly to AAA headquarters in Florida (in the Congressional district represented by incoming Transportation Committee Chair John Mica.) They rode there on the federally-funded Seminole Wekiva Trail—“a trail in AAA’s front yard that, ironically, was developed using the same funding programs AAA would eliminate”— to hand-deliver petitions with 51,377 signatures. Two-thirds of the signatures were from AAA members.

Gagnon’s July editorial argues against House Transportation Committee Chair Jim Oberstar’s position on expanding transportation funding to all forms of transportation. Gagnon says with the trust fund so underfunded, its revenues should go only toward highways.

He said the use of gas taxes since 1991 “not just for highways, but for ‘nonmotorized’ transportation – including sidewalks and hiking and bike trails – as well as for transit” had “not coincidentally” dovetailed with “an increasingly deteriorating highway system.”

RTC answered:

AAA’s position would eliminate Transportation Enhancements (TE) and other long-standing programs that build active transportation facilities such as trails. Starting over with new programs is especially impractical in the face of a possible budget freeze. Even if budgets were not so tight, to divorce active transportation funding from the transportation finance system would deny state and local officials needed flexibility to develop a healthy mix of transportation choices.

RTC staff members say that while pedestrian and bike organizations have joined the campaign to pressure AAA, they didn’t approach transit groups to sign on. APTA confirmed that they aren’t part of the campaign and haven’t taken a position on AAA’s statements. RTC’s Keith Laughlin explains that while transit could face scaled back funding in the next Congress, bike/ped funding could be cut altogether. “So for us, this is an existential issue,” he said.

Transit accounts for about 20 percent of highway trust fund expenditures – compared to about 1.5 percent for bike/ped facilities.

  • Boris

    I wonder if Gagnon thinks that gravity and inflation don’t apply to roads – after all, would heavier vehicles (SUVs) or higher repair costs on a fixed budget (gas tax unchanged since 1993) have anything to do with increasing deterioration?

  • Councilman Joe

    This whole thing is just an attempt by AAA to get media attention by playing to teabagger mentality. They know that bike trails can be easily characterized as “wasteful spending” for the benefit of “minority special interests,” which pushes a lot of people’s buttons.

  • Andy

    When will they realize that we’re just not going to be a happy motoring society forever. Gas prices calmed down a bit, but it’s inevitable that they will continue to rise. We can either spend our money now on continuing to expand highways, or we can be proactive and focus more on transit and bike/ped projects. A single mile of interstate highway runs on the order of $10mil, or for the same amount you can construct an entire bike infrastructure for a small city.

    We need to stop focusing on getting individuals around by themselves in personal vehicles. Let the funding go towards better projects – buses, rail, carshare, biking walking, etc.

  • USA is the most individualistic society on the planet. There is little hope.

  • Ed Throckmorton

    So, put your money where your mouth is – cancel your AAA membership and go with one of the alternatives that does lobby for greener and cleaner transportation – with Better World Club, I get the same benefits as AAA _and_ emergency bicycle service.

  • BCon

    Better World Club out of Portland, OR is a great alternative to AAA that has been offering bicycle roadside assistance for years and doesn’t lobby against environmental, sustainability or alternative transportation causes, in fact, they actually help support & promote them.

  • Andy

    I also use BetterWorldClub (both for work and personal) and have the bike assistance as well (though haven’t used that part yet).

  • Transit Texan

    I use Better World Club because the service is MUCH better than AAA, and they don’t lobby for a car-only world.
    Switch already!

  • norm

    I’ve been an AAA member for ~30 years, and I was shocked and dismayed when I read that editorial in Westways. I will certainly be looking into the Better World Club – thanks for the tips, folks!

  • Joyce

    I think that if the bicyclists want the country to build more bike trails then they should have to license their bicycles and pay a tax that would be used for that purpose. They are another group who wants something for nothing.

  • @Joyce: You know that cyclists pay taxes too, right? How much a bike registration would be $5 a year? Do you really think that all roads are maintained from the funds provided by car registration? Finally, you must certainly realize that majority of cyclists own cars as well? Think before you post on a public forum again, OK?

  • Roadblock

    @Joyce I’m open to having a “fair share” kind of registration for vehicles…. lets see factor in oil wars/occupations (multi trillion dollar ventures), effects of smog on health (are there numbers for this?), 4000 lb vehicles pounding pavement resulting in upkeep costs, vs… bicycles which offset health, road deterioration and oil war costs…. I’d say after all the calculations and massive cost savings bike riders should GET PAID to register and ride bikes. Lets move on this!

  • Al

    Given that the Highway Trust Fund is propped up by general revenues every year, it’s not like the gas tax revenues are directly going to trail & transit. I wonder if the gov’t could get a bill through that removed transit & trails from the highway trust fund, but in exchange banned future transfers from the general fund, so that it would be supported only from gas and car taxes. It might save money and increase the pressure for a higher gas tax, and still be politically acceptable.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

GOP Budget Would Slash Transpo Spending, Entrench Oil Dependence

|
With the release of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget proposal yesterday, right wing calls for massive cuts to transportation spending are now enshrined in the GOP leadership’s fiscal plan. Ryan singled out transportation as an area particularly ripe for cuts, criticized the use of gas tax revenues for projects that aren’t highways, and […]