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OpenMarket: Transportation and Infrastructure

  • No, Politicians Shouldn't Outlaw Driving to Usher in Self-Driving Cars

    October 5, 2015 2:16 PM

    Over at Fusion, Kevin Roose has what is perhaps the worst article on automated vehicles (AVs) I’ve ever seen. In it, he calls for a near-term phase-in of a blanket national driving ban—specifically, beginning it in 2017 and completing it in 2020. That’s quite an ambitious “phase-in,” given that the average age within the U.S. car and light-truck fleet is more than 11 years.

    This call to action isn’t based on facts about where the technology is today or what we can reasonably expect it to offer consumers over the next decade (or even that pesky thing called “the law”); rather, it assumes that fully automated, self-driving highway vehicles are essentially already here while providing no evidence that they’re near the deployment stage. That’s because they’re not.

    Now, automation is already here. But automation is a spectrum, with technologies such as adaptive cruise control on one end and autonomous taxis on the other. Here’s how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration currently defines the various levels of automation:

    And here’s how SAE defines them:

    Note that these levels are not without criticism, but they’ll be useful in keeping our definitions straight. In his piece, Roose is referring solely to NHTSA Level 4 and SAE Level 5 vehicles. This is well beyond the NHTSA and SAE Level 1 vehicles you can purchase right now with features such as adaptive cruise control. So, when do people who spend their careers working on this technology and related issues believe that NHTSA Level 4/SAE Level 5 vehicles will be available to consumers?

  • USDOT Wants it Both Ways with Off-Peak Freight Movements

    September 29, 2015 10:27 AM

    Over at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fastlane blog, Greg Nadeau, administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, has a post touting USDOT’s support for off-peak freight delivery pilot projects underway in New York City and Pensacola, Florida.

    The problem of local traffic is well-known to any major U.S. city; truck operators suffer when forced to crawl through crowded city streets, and residents suffer when trucks block travel lanes or parking access. With commuter traffic lighter and parking more available, off-peak hours should make delivery easier for truck drivers as well as peak commuters and people scrambling for parking.


    Funding in both pilots will be used to help businesses retool their operations to accommodate shipments during off hours and help distributors reconfigure routes and supply chains through low-cost, operational strategies.

    Now this is all well and good, and Administrator Nadeau deserves credit for promoting a smart strategy to ease congestion and improve freight flows. However, it is a bit ironic for USDOT to be touting the very real benefits of off-peak freight movements while they are simultaneously working to push more freight movements into the morning peak hours.

    Back in 2011, USDOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) revised the hours-of-service (HOS) rules that must be followed by truckers and bus drivers, aiming to reduce crashes associated with fatigue. CEI criticized the proposal in formal comments to the agency, arguing that the HOS rules would not improve safety and that the agency was abusing scholarly research to support its bogus findings.

    One particularly egregious problem with the HOS rules involves off-peak scheduling. Under federal regulations, truckers may work up to 60 hours over seven days or 70 hours over eight days (commonly referred to as the weekly limit), in addition to a 14-hour daily work limit and 11-hour daily driving limit. Drivers are permitted to “restart” the weekly limit by taking 34 hours off duty.

    Under rules that came into force in 2013, drivers would be required to include two consecutive 1am to 5am periods in that 34-hour restart and would only be able to restart once per week. Confused yet? Take a look at this handy chart from the Journal of Commerce:

  • Drone Policy Update: California Bill Vetoed, New Model Aircraft Guidance, and More

    September 14, 2015 11:27 AM

    CALIFORNIA UAS BILL VETOED: On September 9, California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed Senate Bill 142 that would have imposed trespass liability on unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operators who fly less than 350 feet above another’s private property. While aimed at preventing invasions of privacy, such a law would have not only greatly restricted UAS operations (the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) currently prohibits operators without special permission from flying more than 400 feet above ground level; more on this below), it would have subjected operators and the state to an enormous volume of litigation. The bill was strongly opposed by the UAS industry, hobbyists, press organizations, and others. Kudos to Gov. Brown. To be sure, there are privacy challenges associated with the rise of UAS technology, but ham-fisted approaches such as the one contained in SB 142 risk doing far more harm than good. My forthcoming CEI whitepaper on UAS myths and facts addresses these issues and more.

    MODEL AIRCRAFT GUIDANCE: On September 2, the FAA cancelled Aviation Circular (AC) 91-57, Model Aircraft Operating Standards. AC 91-57 had been voluntary guidance since 1981, and recreational UAS operators had increasingly demanded a badly needed update. In its place, the FAA released AC 91-57A pursuant to the FAA Modernization and Reform Act (FMRA) of 2012 that conformed the new guidance to the evolving hobbyist UAS market. Changes include a weight limit of 55 pounds and an ability to fly as close as five miles from an airport without notifying the tower or airport operator (AC 91-57 imposed a three-mile limit). One major difference in spirit between ACs 91-57 and 91-57A is that the FAA no longer describes its guidance as a set of voluntary best practices. While UAS hobbyists are likely to appreciate the clarity from an AC that isn’t nearly 35 years old, AC 91-57A does impose new restrictions that did not exist in the previous AC.

  • Did North Dakota Just Authorize Pepper-Spraying Police Drones?

    August 27, 2015 1:26 PM

    The Daily Beast’s Justin Glawe has written an article about a North Dakota law aimed at limiting law enforcement use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones. He claims that the law was watered down by police interests and corporate lobbyists, and that the weakened protections now authorize law enforcement’s use of non-lethal UAS-mounted weapons:

    With all the concern over the militarization of police in the past year, no one noticed that the state became the first in the union to allow police to equip drones with “less than lethal” weapons. House Bill 1328 wasn’t drafted that way, but then a lobbyist representing law enforcement—tight with a booming drone industry—got his hands on it.

    The bill’s stated intent was to require police to obtain a search warrant from a judge in order to use a drone to search for criminal evidence. In fact, the original draft of Representative Rick Becker’s bill would have banned all weapons on police drones.

    Then Bruce Burkett of the North Dakota Peace Officer’s Association was allowed by the state house committee to amend HB 1328 and limit the prohibition only to lethal weapons. “Less than lethal” weapons like rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas, sound cannons, and Tasers are therefore permitted on police drones.

    Scary stuff, right? I certainly don’t want the police to have armed UAS—whether they be deployed with lethal or non-lethal weapons—and requiring warrants is a good first step. But based on a reading of the statute in question, it does not appear to do what Glawe and others claims it does.

  • New York Times Editorial Board Clueless on Smart Car Safety and Security

    August 18, 2015 11:07 AM

    On Sunday, August 9, The New York Times ran an editorial, “Protecting Cars from Hackers,” discussing the recent publicized hacking incidents of Fiat Chrysler and Tesla vehicles, with Fiat Chrysler voluntarily recalling 1.4 million vehicles to fix the bug.

    As our cars get smarter, we can expect more of these types of incidents. To be sure, there are new risks presented by the rise of smart cars—particularly when automated systems take over driving task responsibilities previously held by drivers—but the Times’ editorial board’s recommendations will not make us safer. In fact, if we listen to them, we will end up with more highway fatalities and injuries.

    The Times recommends:

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which regulates auto safety, insists that it is closely monitoring these new technologies, and is running tests on car software. The agency has also encouraged the industry to create an information-sharing center through which companies can exchange information on security threats.

    That’s good news. But N.H.T.S.A. should also start writing basic security standards that require automakers to test the software and make sure a car’s wireless system cannot be used to control the engine and brakes. The agency’s regulations on airbags, seatbelts and crash testing have helped save countless lives. New rules for software that operate cars could prove just as important.

    There’s a lot wrong here, so let’s unpack a few points. The Times wants NHTSA to start issuing a flurry of rulemakings on automotive cybersecurity and to “make sure a car’s wireless system cannot be used to control the engine and brakes.” My engineer friends will have already winced at the mangled and incoherent terminology deployed by the editorial writers, but what would prohibiting “a car’s wireless system” from “control[ling] the engine and brakes” mean in terms of, say, self-driving taxis that may be on the horizon? Based on any reasonable reading of the Times’ misguided call to action, it would outlaw them. Not only will automated vehicles likely be far safer, automated taxis would allow more people to live car-free lifestyles, something I thought was supported by the progressive Manhattan elites that populate the editorial board.

  • "Flypocalypse" Shows Air Traffic Control Too Important to Be Left to FAA

    August 18, 2015 8:59 AM

    This past Saturday, hundreds of flights were delayed or canceled due to an air traffic control software glitch in the Washington, D.C. area. Naturally, #flypocalypse began trending on Twitter. Initially, the Federal Aviation Administration denied reports that their brand-new En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) system was responsible. Yesterday, FAA officials admitted ERAM was the culprit.

    ERAM is a critical component of the FAA’s NextGen air traffic control modernization program. In theory, it offers greatly improved communications, flight tracking, and controller display functionality, replacing a legacy system designed in the 1980s. But the FAA’s deployment of ERAM, like many NextGen components, has been plagued by serious problems.

    Back in May, I noted that the FAA had just completed ERAM deployment—five years late and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget. Around the same time, the National Research Council issued a damning report of the FAA’s ongoing NextGen deployment failures. The Washington Post’s Ashley Halsey highlighted some choice quotes from the NRC report:

    • “The original vision for NextGen is not what is being implemented today.”
    • “This shift in focus has not been clear to all stakeholders.”
    • “Airlines are not motivated to spend money on equipment and training for NextGen.”
    • “Not all parts of the original vision will be achieved in the foreseeable future.”
    • “NextGen, as currently executed, is not broadly transformational.”
    • “‘NextGen’ has become a misnomer.”

    The latest ERAM failure and resulting flight disruptions once again shows that the FAA cannot be trusted to deliver on NextGen. But air traffic modernization problems extend beyond the bungled NextGen rollout.

  • CEI Sues TSA for Violating Federal Law and Court Order on Body Scanners

    July 16, 2015 1:15 PM

    Yesterday, July 15, 2015, CEI filed a petition for writ of mandamus with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Our suit requests the court enforce its July 15, 2011, decision that found the TSA’s deployment of body scanners in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. The 2011 court ordered the TSA to “promptly” open a rulemaking proceeding and produce a final rule. Yesterday was the four-year anniversary of the court order and we still do not have a final rule to evaluate and potentially challenge. In fact, given that TSA has been rolling out body scanners since 2007, they have been violating the APA for eight years.

    Other than CEI, petitioners are the National Center for Transgender Equality, The Rutherford Institute, CEI President Lawson Bader, and yours truly, in our capacity as private individuals. CEI’s attorneys are representing the petitioners.

    Our primary interest in this case is ensuring the TSA is forced to follow the law. However, results of a classified Department of Homeland Security Inspector General audit were leaked to and publicized by ABC News on June 1. The failure rate was an astounding 96 percent. So, not only is the TSA violating the law by deploying these machines, the machines likely don’t even work as advertised, as we and others have alleged in the past.

    So far, USA TodayThe Washington ExaminerReason magazine have covered the lawsuit, with a small blurb in The New York Times.

    The summary of our argument can be found here. The full complaint is here. For more from CEI on TSA’s illegal body scanner policy, see our 2013 comments to the agency and a 2012 op-ed by former American Airlines CEO Robert L. Crandall and myself summarizing our amicus brief in EPIC v. DHS.

  • Reimagining Surface Transportation Reauthorization: Pro-Market Recommendations for Policy Makers

    June 30, 2015 10:15 AM

    Today, CEI published my white paper, “Reimagining Surface Transportation Reauthorization: Pro-Market Recommendations for Policy Makers.” In it, I lay out the case for making some small but important changes to federal surface transportation policy.

    Traditionally, free market fiscal conservatives have advocated for devolving all federal highway and transit programs to the states. To be sure, we at CEI support this eventual goal. Unfortunately, it is wholly unrealistic at this time. But there are still things that can be done to move closer to this direction. We suggest a strategy of “de facto devolution,” which basically involves keeping federal spending steady while increasing the flexibility of states to fund and finance their own highways. To accomplish this, we recommend the following changes to federal highway policy:

    • Repeal the current federal prohibition on states tolling their own Interstate segments for reconstruction purposes, codified at 23 U.S.C. § 129.
    • Uncap or greatly increase the national cap on private activity bonds, currently set at $15 billion, codified at 26 U.S.C. § 142(m)(2)(A).
    • Provide technical and financial assistance to states looking to launch their own mileage-based user fee pilot programs.

    With respect to mass transit, most free market fiscal conservatives have long and correctly held that transit is an inherently local issue. As such, it has no business receiving federal funding, let alone the current 1/5 share of total federal surface transportation spending—especially given the fact that mass transit accounts for less than 2 percent of person trips nationwide. You read that correctly: the federal government currently spends 1/5 of its surface transportation dollars on a mode that accounts for 1/50 of person trips.

     The federal politics of mass transit could be described as an unfortunate mix of parochial and ideological interests battling over non-federal issues. Given that serious federal mass transit spending cuts are at the moment politically difficult, fiscal conservatives and proponents of sound national transportation policy should embrace some more modest goals to rationalize federal mass transit policy. We recommend the following changes to federal mass transit policy:

    • Work to end Highway Trust Fund bailouts and raise public awareness of the huge discrepancy between transit funding and transit use—that 19 percent of federal surface transportation funding is currently directed to a mode that accounts for less than 2 percent of trips nationwide.
    • Roll existing discretionary transit grants programs such as New Starts into the Urbanized Area Formula Program.
    • Realign spending priorities to a fix-it-first-strategy by allowing federal transit funds to be used for maintenance projects.

    Read the whole white paper here.

  • Long Mass Transit Commutes Are Horrible for Your Health

    May 20, 2015 5:12 PM

    Joseph Stromberg at has an article up arguing that “commuting alone by car” is “associated with obesity, high blood pressure, sleeplessness, and general unhappiness” relative to other transportation modes. His solution to unhealthy lengthy commutes is to increase carpooling.

    Back in 2012, I argued against another now-Voxxer, Matthew Yglesias, on the supposed health harms of auto commuting. The problem, as Census data make clear, is that other than those who walk to work, people commuting by driving alone generally have the shortest commutes. Those using public transit take on average twice as long to make their commuting journeys as those who drive by themselves.

  • Yes, It Is Stupid to Blame Lack of Subsidies for Amtrak's Derailment

    May 18, 2015 2:32 PM

    This morning, Amtrak Northeast Regional service was finally reopened following last week’s tragic derailment in Philadelphia that has killed at least eight and injured approximately 200. The tragedy was predictably exploited by cynical politicians, activists, and journalists, who seem to falsely believe that flushing more subsidies down the Amtrak drain would have somehow prevented the accident. It is true the technology at issue would possibly or even likely prevented this specific crash, speeding the deployment of it would dramatically increase costs and very likely reduce overall rail safety.

    The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) continues to investigate and a final report will likely take a year or more to complete, but we know that the train was reportedly traveling at 106 mph right before it went into the 50-mph curve. By the time the engineer pulled the emergency brake, it was too late and the train entered the curve at 102 mph. The engineer is claiming he doesn’t remember right before the derailment and may have been struck by a foreign object. Yet, the NTSB has reviewed the dispatch tapes and found that the engineer did not report being struck by an object—although the NTSB and FBI are currently investigating a mark on the windshield.

    It is likely the Philadelphia derailment is largely due to human error. In a similar 2013 crash in Spain, the operator was found to have recklessly ignored speed warnings before entering a 50-mph curve at 121 mph, killing 79 and injuring 140 when the train derailed and crashed into a concrete wall. In 2005, a Japanese commuter train derailed after it entered a 43-mph curve at 72 mph, killing 106 and injuring 562. The operator was killed, but he had likely intentionally increased the speed to unsafe levels.

    Washington being what it is, partisans almost immediately began exploiting this tragedy for political gain, blaming Amtrak opponents for supposedly starving Amtrak of operating subsidies. Carl Cannon highlights some of the more shameless examples from Democratic groups and politicians, such as the Agenda Project Action Fund’s claim that “Republican Cuts Kill… Again.” They argue that Amtrak’s alleged lack of sufficient operating subsidies has delayed the rollout of a set of rail safety technologies called positive train control (PTC). House Speaker John Boehner has righty called linking Amtrak funding to the derailment “stupid.”

    But rather than learn from Speaker Boehner’s accurate rebuke, New York Sen. Charles Schumer doubled down, saying, “Speaker Boehner’s comments are patently false. Experts have made clear that Positive Train Control could have prevented the tragedy in Philadelphia. It is simply a fact that insufficient funding for Amtrak has delayed the installation of PTC, and to deny a connection between the accident and underfunding Amtrak is to deny reality.”

    Yes, Sen. Schumer, it is stupid to make this absurd suggestion. To understand why it is baseless, you need understand a little bit about the history of PTC and Amtrak.

    Amtrak was created in 1970 to provide emergency passenger rail service throughout much of the United States. The private railroads were dying under a stultifying regulatory regime, leading to many bankruptcies, with members of Congress fearing the U.S. would lose passenger and freight rail service. The railroads had been cross-subsidizing passenger rail for decades, but while they were circling the drain in the 1970s, the passenger service mandates became too much to bear. It was widely believed that Amtrak would be temporary, and that deregulated railroads would either retake control of the passenger routes or intercity passenger rail would simply end up in the dustbin of history.

    Unfortunately, Amtrak has a small but powerful constituency and taxpayers have now doled out more than $45 billion in subsidies to keep Amtrak afloat. Amtrak accounts for just 0.15 percent of passenger-miles and 0.8 percent of trips more than 50 miles in the U.S.


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