Momentum: Issue #61

December 21, 2020

Putting 2020 in the Rearview Mirror

Shailen Bhatt, President & CEO, ITS America 

As we close the books on our own version of what Queen Elizabeth infamously referred to as an ‘Annus Horribilis’ (‘horrible year’), there is light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccines that are now being administered are literally the shots in the arm needed to bring us to closer to the end of the terrible toll coronavirus is wreaking. In keeping with the British theme, Churchill would say this isn’t the beginning of the end, or the end of the end, but the end of the beginning.

I am an optimist. We will get through the horrors of the coronavirus and emerge on the other side. Once we deal with the scourge of this pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 Americans, we must deal with the epidemic of roadway fatalities in the United States. Just as the medical community was able to harness science to produce a vaccine with a 94 percent efficacy rate in record time, the transportation community can use technology to bring about a similar miracle to end the tragic and unnecessary loss of lives on American roads. From LiDAR sensors that detect pedestrians in and around intersections, to Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) that helps avoid forward crashes, to the multiple applications of life-saving V2X technologies, there will be a future in which we will see fewer senseless deaths.

Many of us experience frustrations on our transportation network – the bus or the train is late, or traffic is always congested. There are millions of Americans, however, who don’t even have access to the network. For those who are disabled, automated vehicle technology has the potential to give them the same access to the mobility that many of us take for granted and can provide a much more equitable transportation system.

Another way to improve access and equity is by expanding Mobility on Demand, so everyone gains access to mobility and opportunity. Some cities and metro areas working on versions of a ‘mobility wallet,’ an e-collection of passes and credits for use on transit, streetcar, rail, and micromobility options such as shared bikes or scooters. While ridership is down now, it will come back as we move through next year.

Human beings are gregarious creatures. We will get together again, so it is important to take lessons learned from 2020 and apply them moving forward – contactless payment systems on transit; re-designing urban areas to allow for more movement of people and not just cars; and relying on solid traffic management to avoid gridlock. When people return to places of work, school, and worship in the next year, we will see traffic return as well, so how can we reduce emissions through more electrification? How can we use tools like predictive analytics, big data and AI to optimize our transportation network so we don’t sit in endless traffic? We have a tremendous opportunity to use technology to build a 21st century system, and I am excited about what 2021 has in store. 

I hope you and your families have a safe and peaceful holiday season. I look forward to getting together next year in Charlotte and at the World Congress in Los Angeles in 2022!

Congress Strikes Deal on COVID-19 Economic Relief: Billions for Transit and State DOTs

Ron Thaniel, Vice President, Public Policy and Legislative Affairs

Congress reached an agreement on a long-delayed COVID-19 relief bill on Sunday, December 20. On Sunday, it also passed a one-day continuing resolution to keep the federal government funded, thereby providing time to vote on the relief bill and the $1.4 trillion Omnibus spending bill on Monday, December 21. The spending bill will fund the federal government through the end of September 2021. The relief bill will be combined with the spending bill for a $2.3 trillion bill.

The $900 billion relief bill, which would be the fifth COVID-19 response bill approved by Congress since the start of the pandemic, and the second largest, includes $45 billion for transportation, including $14 billion for public transit and $10 billion for state departments of transportation. The relief bill also has $7 billion for broadband and $280 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that passed Congress in March totaled $2 trillion in emergency assistance, including billions to the transportation sectors, including public transit.  

ITS America has been urging the Congress and the Administration since spring to provide emergency assistance for public transit, state and local transportation agencies, broadband, and additional funding for loan and grant programs to assist businesses and nonprofits in the transportation sector.

ITS America’s Smart Infrastructure Task Force co-chair Tilly Chang, Executive Director, San Francisco County Transportation Authority, made ITS America’s latest ask of Congress for emergency assistance for transit and state and local transportation agencies on a December 18 call with House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio’s (D-OR) staff. The Democratic staff participated in a conference call with ITS America on technical corrections to the House-passed INVEST in America Act surface transportation reauthorization. The bill is expected to be the starting point for the reauthorization of the FAST Act in the House when it is reintroduced in the 117th Congress.

While the bill’s text of the COVID-19 economic relief package has not been released, based on bill summaries released by Democratic and Republican congressional leadership, it does not appear that the relief bill includes emergency assistance to local departments of transportation. House Democrats support providing emergency assistance to local transportation agencies using a suballocation formula; however, Senate Republicans do not support direct federal aid to city and county transportation agencies.

Assuming passage of the relief bill and President Trump signing it, Washington’s focus now turns to additional COVID-19 economic relief and an infrastructure stimulus in the 117th Congress and the Biden-Harris administration. Transit’s need is north of $32 billion, and state departments of transportation are asking for $37 billion in emergency assistance. The $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill is a needed start; however, more help for transportation agencies is urgently needed. The bill also leaves out aid to state and local governments. ITS America will have a detailed breakdown of the relief bill in the January 8 edition of the Policy Rundown.  

For additional information on ITS America’s COVID-19 economic relief priorities and the association’s FAST Act reauthorization platform Moving People, Data, and Freight: Safer, Greener, and Smarter, email Ron Thaniel at