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Posts from the "Privatization" Category

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Mica Won’t Let His Grudge Against Amtrak Die, Revives Privatization Scheme

Rep. John Mica (R-FL) no longer chairs the House Transportation Committee, but that doesn’t mean he’s eased up on his crusade against Amtrak. Calling the company a “Soviet style monopoly,” Mica used his afternoon address to the U.S. High Speed Rail Association to announce his plan to revive his despised and defeated measure to privatize parts of Amtrak.

Ray LaHood takes questions from reporters after telling the U.S. High-Speed Rail Association, "Do not be dissuaded by a few detractors." A few hours later, Rep. Mica called Amtrak a Soviet style monopoly that should be disbanded. Photo: Tanya Snyder

Mica plans to introduce legislation to end Amtrak’s “monopoly” by allowing “open competition to provide intercity passenger and high-speed rail service.”

Of course, high-speed rail in California is open for bids from private, mostly foreign, firms, and many have expressed interest. Fully private entities are moving forward with rail projects in Florida and Texas. Amtrak simply doesn’t have the stranglehold on rail in America that Mica tries to convey. And in the sense that Amtrak does have a broad network of lines, it’s in large part because it was created by Congress and is partially funded by taxpayers with a mandate to provide mobility services to the country.

To illustrate the land of milk and honey that awaits rail privatization, Mica cited the European Union’s decision to end state rail monopolies. Perhaps he isn’t up to speed on the latest news: The European Commission planned last month to break up the monopolies and open the rail system to free market competition but took a step back from that two weeks later due to opposition, favoring instead a proposal that will allow Germany and France to keep their state-dominated systems. Meanwhile, rail privatization in the UK has let to a tripling of fare prices and plummeting investor confidence.

Earlier in the day, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also had an anecdote from Europe and Asia. He’s toured 18 countries’ high-speed rail systems during his tenure as secretary. “The common thread in every country was the idea that unless the national government makes the investment in high-speed rail, it will not happen,” he said.

Mica hopes to include his privatization proposal in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act reauthorization this year. The last time he tried to include a similar idea in the surface transportation reauthorization, the proposal was so widely panned he had to retract it. Mica now has no leadership post within the committee. He is the senior member of the Rail Subcommittee but not the chair or the vice chair.

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What Kind of Leadership Would Bill Shuster Bring to the Transpo Committee?

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) could be the next chair of the House Transportation Committee. Photo: Office of Rep. Bill Shuster.

This is the first of two posts examining Rep. Bill Shuster’s candidacy for the chairmanship of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. We’ll post the second one, focused on his positions on bike/ped programs and funding issues, tomorrow.

Over the next few weeks, we could see a shake-up on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the House. Current Chair John Mica (R-FL) has been the top Republican on the committee for six years, and according to GOP rules, that’s the limit. While Mica is asking leadership for a little wiggle room, his deputy is making the case for his own candidacy. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) announced late last week that he would seek the chairmanship.

If that name rings a bell, it may be because his father was a legend on Capitol Hill. Evoke Bud Shuster’s name in Washington and you’ll hear story after story of the deal-making he pulled off when he chaired the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure from 1995 to 2001. He brought home more bacon to his district in rural Pennsylvania than it could even handle, according to a profile that ran in the National Journal as his Congressional career came to an end.

Bill Shuster took over his father’s seat in Congress in 2001, and soon joined the committee his father presided over. Now he could take over his dad’s gavel, too, when the new Congress is seated in January.

Mica is meeting with Republican leaders this week to discuss the possibility of getting a waiver to the six-year rule. Rep. Paul Ryan is expected to receive such a waiver, so that he can go on serving at the helm of the Budget Committee. But does Ryan’s exception mean Mica will get one too? Unlikely. Last spring, rumors circulated that Republican leaders were fed up with Mica’s inability to pass a transportation bill and were looking to Shuster to step in. Those rumors were somewhat overblown, but may indicate that leaders aren’t looking for two more years of John Mica at the gavel of T&I.

Shuster, meanwhile, has excellent relationships with House GOP honchos. And as chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, he put his own stamp on the reauthorization process. He, with Mica, inserted a highly contentious “red meat” provision (later dropped) to privatize Amtrak’s profitable Northeast Corridor service, and he supported the inclusion of automatic approval for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

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Advocates: Private Transit Giant Lobbied House to Weaken Public Transit

The threat of service reductions and fare increases always loomed large over the transfer of Long Island Bus service to a private operator. After Nassau County refused to assume its share of costs for the service, international private transit provider Veolia Transport was brought on to take over from the New York MTA at the beginning of the year.

100 people protested international private transit operator Veolia Transport yesterday in Silver Springs, Maryland. Photo: Transportation Equity Network

It wasn’t long before the ax dropped. Two weeks ago, it was announced that the Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE bus) would see cutbacks to some 30 of its routes.

On Tuesday more than 100 protesters from around the country, representing transit and labor advocates as well as local religious leaders, staged a protest at Veolia’s Silver Springs, Maryland offices. The French-based international transportation service provider operates transit in 150 cities, transit authorities, counties and airports in the U.S. and Canada. From Denver to Tucson, from Seattle to Dallas — there’s hardly a state where Veolia doesn’t hold a contract.

Veolia has also played a role in shaping HR 7, the House transportation bill put forward by GOP leadership. Through the law firm Patton Boggs, Veolia lobbied for measures that would accelerate the transfer of transit service to private operators, according to Sam Finkelstein, a spokesperson for the Transportation Equity Network, which organized the protest. A provision of the bill would reward transit agencies that privatize a portion of their service by offering increased capital funding [PDF, pages 322 and 323]. Veolia did not respond to requests to confirm or deny that the company lobbied for that provision.

Protestors said Veolia’s contracts are a bad deal for transit riders. “We’re here to demand our money back,” said protestor Irma Wallace of Springfield, Illinois. “These private companies siphon profits out of our public services and we’re sick and tired of our municipal services being managed for private profit instead of public good.”

On Long Island, Veolia says its management will bring efficiencies to the system. “I like to call it a reallocation of resources,” Veolia’s Michael Setzer told WABC New York. “We’re taking all the money available from Nassau County and applying it much more smartly than it has been.” But WABC was quick to point out that while Veolia had added a few express routes, the overwhelming majority of changes were service cuts.

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