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Delaware Senator Dares to Utter the Word “Transit”

1:26 PM EDT on May 7, 2008

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, andI go back and forth. As my colleague, the Presiding Officer, knows, Igo back and forth almost every night to Delaware. A strange thing isgoing on with respect to passenger rail ridership in this country.

I used to serve on the Amtrak board when I was Governor ofDelaware, and every year we would see ridership go up by a couple ofpercentage points. We would struggle, try to raise money out of thefare 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 15percent. Revenues are up by 15 percent. People are starting to realizethat maybe it makes sense to get out of our cars, trucks, and vans andtake the train or take transit. Transit ridership is up again thisfiscal 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 arecloser to opportunities for transit -- for rail, for bus, for subways,for the metro systems. As we have seen the drop in home prices acrossthe country -- in some cases, very dramatic -- among the surprises, atleast for me, is to see housing prices stable and in some casesactually going up in places where people can buy a home and live andget to work or wherever they need to go to shop without driving to getthere.

I don't know how gullible we think the American voters are tosuggest 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 usthrough the next election, and then when the elections are over wewill go ahead and reinstate the gasoline tax to what it has been eventhough in doing that we might be depleting further the money availablefor transportation improvements. I don't know how foolish we think theAmerican voters are. They are a lot smarter than that. They are a lotsmarter, maybe, than we give them credit for being.

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

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

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

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