The United States is car country. Its road network of 4.1 million kilometers is the largest in the world. It has more motor vehicles per person than any other major country. Eighty-six percent of Americans drive to work (or did so during normal times), compared to 63 percent of English workers and 71 percent of Australian commuters. A pop song called “Driving License,” about the freedom and heartbreak that accompanies a young adult rite, spent 11 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. Only in America.
So President Biden proposed $ 2 trillion infrastructure program is most notable for one fact: it allocates more money to public transit and rail than to highways. Budgets can make reading boring, but they also flag documents, informing the public of their leaders’ priorities. The infrastructure proposal seems to say: Consider getting your butt out of your car.
“The plan appears to take seriously the idea that we need to invest more in our public transport and intercity rail network than in our road network,” says Yonah Freemark, senior researcher at the Urban Economic Policy Think Tank. Institute. studies land use and transportation. He says the proposal would double typical federal spending on public transit and quadruple the government’s investment in rail.
The rationale is climate change. Biden said on Wednesday that the plan “will lead to transformational progress in our efforts to tackle climate change with American jobs and American ingenuity.” If the plan turns it into law – it won’t be easy; more on that later – it would be one of the biggest efforts the federal government has ever made to tackle greenhouse gas emissions. The president pledged to put the country on the path to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Achieving this goal would mean many changes, starting with overhauling the country’s transportation system. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University concluded that, of course, switching to electric vehicles from those powered by internal combustion engines would help a lot. The same would apply to convincing people to share the electric robotaxis. But it will take decades. In the meantime, they say, Americans will also have to reduce the number of kilometers traveled. This means, in part, finding alternatives to the car: walking, cycling and public transport. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that the typical city bus emits one-third less greenhouse gas emissions per passenger-mile than the average single-occupancy vehicle, even though buses are typically only one-quarter full.
Biden’s proposal would allocate $ 85 billion over eight years to public transit for extensions and repairs. It would move $ 80 billion to intercity rail, both to fix today’s Amtrak and to connect new cities. It would allocate $ 174 billion for investments in electric vehicles, including funding to replace 50,000 diesel buses with electric buses. These would likely cost around $ 38 billion, says Jeff Davis, a senior researcher at the Eno Center for Transportation, a think tank.
In contrast, the proposal devotes $ 115 billion to “modernizing” bridges, highways and roads. That would further increase federal investment from previous plans, but only 46%, according to Davis.
For transit agencies, the additional money would be significant. The United States spends about $ 60 billion a year on transit, with the federal government covering 20%, states 20%, and local government about a third. (The other quarter comes from fares.) The doubling of the federal contribution will allow many organizations to do things that make public transit a more viable option, such as repairing shoddy and outdated technology and equipment and operate more frequent buses and trains. But even the billions pledged would not be enough to fundamentally change the country’s transportation system. New York’s four-year capital plan, for example, promises $ 51.5 billion for maintenance, repairs and new projects – and that’s just a system.
Interurban rail, meanwhile, should get a serious chance in the arm, a suitable proposition to Amtrak Joe. Amtrak responded to the proposal on Wednesday with publish a map over 30 potential new routes, including connecting cities such as Phoenix, Las Vegas and Cheyenne, Wyoming.