Momentum: Issue #59

November 23, 2020

The 2020 Elections’ Impact on Transportation

The ITS America policy team prepared an analysis of the 2020 election results, which is excerpted below – it covers an overview of the 117th Congress, President-elect Joe Biden’s likely transportation priorities, and a brief update of transportation ballot measures approved by voters.

House and Senate Results

In the Senate, Republicans hold 50 seats, and the Democrats have 48, including the two Independent senators who caucus with the Democrats. The Republicans flipped one seat (AL), while the Democrats flipped two – CO and AZ for a net gain of +1. Georgia will hold two runoff elections in early January, which will determine Senate control. The reelection of Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) is key to the success of ITS America’s transportation technology priorities in the Senate, including automated vehicle legislation and legislative efforts to preserve the 75 MHz of the 5.9 GHz spectrum for V2X. 

Democrats have the majority in the House, with 222 seats; the Republicans hold 204 – 218 seats are needed for the majority. Republicans have a net gain of +8. Nine races have not been called as of November 20. Key wins in the House for ITS America’s transportation technology legislative priorities include the reelection of Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highway and Transit Ranking Member Rodney Davis (R-IL). Both fought through tough races and are champions of technology solutions to today’s transportation challenges.

Transportation Issues in the 117th Congress

The key transportation issues to watch are COVID-19 relief, infrastructure stimulus, FAST Act reauthorization, and automated vehicle legislation. On COVID relief, ITS America is urging Congress and the Trump Administration to pass a COVID-19 relief bill that includes emergency assistance for state and local transportation agencies and public transit agencies in the lame-duck session. If that doesn’t happen, ITS America believes passing a COVID-19 relief bill must be a priority for the new Administration and Congress. On the infrastructure front, it is likely the House and Senate will begin early in the new Congress to reauthorize the FAST Act, which will expire next September. The House-passed $500 billion INVEST in America Act will be the starting point for House Democrats, which ITS America supports. The Senate is a little more uncertain as we wait to see the results of the two Georgia runoff elections. Increasing reports also suggest more road, bridge, transit, and technology  funding could be coming in the new year in the form of an infrastructure stimulus, which likely will be needed to get the country out of a COVID-19 induced recession.

While ITS America had high hopes for a bipartisan automated vehicle bill in this Congress after coming so close in 2018, it appears this issue will fall to the next Congress. Even with the Senate’s control up in the air, the key pieces for an AV bill are in place with Senator Gary Peters’ (D-MI) reelection. On the House side, the pieces are also largely in place with the House Energy and Commerce Committee leadership’s expected continuation, minus Greg Walden, the committee’s Republican leader, who is retiring. ITS America is optimistic that a bipartisan AV bill will be introduced in the first session of the 117th Congress.

Transportation Issues in a Biden Administration

As a candidate, President-elect Biden proposed a $2 trillion infrastructure proposal that focused on building a sustainable transportation and clean energy future. It is an ambitious proposal that would likely be significantly pared down if the Senate remains under Republican control and the Biden Administration pursues a standalone infrastructure bill. The new administration may instead seek to include aspects of its infrastructure proposal in FAST Act reauthorization legislation, which provides an opportunity to increase investment in transportation and infrastructure and make changes to transportation policy. On the spectrum front, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 5-0 last week to reallocate 45 MHz of the 5.9 GHz spectrum. While President-elect Biden will designate a new chair – current chairman Ajit Pai is expected to step down in January – and appoint a commissioner, which will result in three Democrat and two Republican commissioners, it will be very difficult to convince the Commission to reverse its decision to reallocate the spectrum.

At the Department of Transportation, we anticipate a focus on safety and a greater willingness to issue regulations – possibly including a national framework for automated vehicles. Issues that could be addressed by the Biden Administration through executive orders could include CAFE standards; considering greenhouse gas emissions and climate change in permitting decisions; moving toward zero-emission government fleet vehicles; and a mask requirement for public transportation.

State and Local Ballot Initiatives

California voters approved Prop. 22, which exempts companies such as Uber and Lyft from having to classify their workers as employees. The ballot measure mandates that drivers for these companies will receive new benefits, such as minimum hourly earnings, but won’t afford them the full protections and benefits that come with employment, as they may have had to under another law, AB5,  which originally took aim at gig work.

In addition, transit funding initiatives were voted on in several jurisdictions, such as the measure passed in Austin that approved long-term funding for significant transit investments, including on demand transit.