How Transportation Policy Will Change In A Biden Administration

Election betting markets have Joe Biden a favorite to win over Donald Trump in this November’s Presidential election. Polling is even more skewed. Of course at this point four years ago Hillary Clinton was the favorite to win. Especially with as fast as things are moving in 2020, the situation n the ground can change, although re-election is tough for an incumbent during a recession.

During the campaign the challenger will traditionally put together a transition team to work on personnel and policy issues, preparing to hit the ground running if they become President. That doesn’t wait until the election. And that team goes looking for ideas and priorities for issue areas and departments.

The left of center Center for American Progress has laid out an agenda for the Department of Transportation in a Biden administration. It’s one of the best early places to look for what a Biden Department of Transportation might look to do.

Their recommendations include,

  • Lower speed limits
  • Roads to have more bike lanes, and ADA-compliant crossings
  • $8 billion annually in new subsidies for Amtrak
  • Limits on trucking – from duty hours to truck size
  • Revised contract and grant guidelines to enhance minority preferences, including spending more on projects to hire contractors that meet equity goals and pay employees more, and requiring that a greater percentage of funding go to businesses owned by individuals from historically-disadvantaged groups.
  • Penalize those who discourage union organizing

They recommend a renewed focus on the environment, and this extends into areas of aviation policy. For airlines specifically they’re looking for:

  • higher airport facilities charges, raised to a cap of $8 and indexing that to inflation
  • applying the domestic 7.5% excise tax on airfare to ancillary revenue
  • using higher fees and taxes for environmental goals
  • requiring airlines to disclose emissions of each flight to passengers
  • requiring airlines to purchase carbon offsets for all domestic flights
  • making grants to expand capacity at the 15 largest airports

Overall you might expect a more active and regulatory DOT, since CAP recommends that a new administration make it easier to issue rules, amending DOT order 2100.6 to eliminate President Trump’s requirement that new rules require repeal of two existing rules.

Ultimately there are some pieces in here that are probably wise, for instance it makes no sense to treat baggage fees different from airline tickets when it comes to taxation. The tax code encourages airlines to unbundle and charge these fees, with large airlines reaping upwards of $50 million or more apiece (in a normal year) in tax savings as a reward for charging checked baggage fees.

On the other hand there are better ways of expanding air travel capacity than making construction grants to the busiest airports, unless those grants come with loosening rules that would make runway construction easier and unless they’re paired with air traffic control reform that expands capacity. And at New York LaGuardia, New York JFK, and Washington National there’s a more effective was to spur new competition

And while environmental goals are laudable infrastructure projects are often too hindered by years of environmental review, and carbon offsets aren’t going to make a huge difference. Delta committed to buying them back in February. They’re questionable in effectiveness and limited in supply. Everyone fully offsetting likely means there aren’t enough to go around in the economy, and airlines would just be bidding up the price of offsets that will be taking place anyway.

What do you think of this agenda for DOT?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Lots to unpack. But funny that they aim to put even more restrictions on trucking, which at the margin will shift more cargo to air and rail, defeating the purpose of a)saving CO2 emissions (vs air) and b) increasing passenger rail service, since rail lines will be more crowded with freight.

  2. It’s a wish list, so a lot of things will be dropped, partially implemented, or enacted slowly. Hopefully this won’t turn into another crazy troll call in the comments.

  3. If checked bags fees become subject to the 7.5% tax, the airlines will simply raise bag fees by at least 7.5%.

    No airline is going to swallow such a big tax-bite (on all checked baggage fees annually). Each will just pass it through to passengers for exactly what it represents–an increase in the cost of business.

  4. Gene your still an IDIOT and if the above crazy left wing regs get put into place so many facets of transportation will be SCREWED AND more Unionized// a sad situation for our country…

  5. @Steve

    Trucks do 99.9% of damage to US roads but pay much less than that toward the highway trust fun. Because road wear increases by the fourth power of axle load, reducing truck weight can have drastic impacts on the life of bridges and roads. Most freight rail lines are poorly suited to passenger service anyway to shifting from heavily subsidized trucking on public roads to nearly-unsubsidized, private railroads would be a huge win for road users and the environment.

  6. The bottom line is that everything will cost the consumer more. Flying will cost passengers more and products being shipped will cost the end consumer more. These extra costs that will be passed on to the consumer will further limit access to travel and products to those with lower incomes. It is unfortunate.

  7. Every policy proposal is awful. Lower speed limits when we already have terrible traffic is irrational. More accidents happen when people are disrupting the free flow of traffic based on road conditions because of speed limits. Don’t they realize this means more unnecessary police interaction with the public. Look at how well that works out. Blacks complain about police abuse (whites should too as police abuse all members of the public) but 90% vote for liberals who create and support the very nanny state laws that cause cops to stop them or arrest them. Penalties for those who discourage unionization literally means people/companies will be penalized for speech. Subsidies for Amtrack of course won’t improve service. It will just get wasted on services that are unused and on high paying contracts to unionized labor.

    Let’s hope these proposals or likelihood of implementation are as accurate as the state polls in 2016. KAGA.

  8. We should oppose the airport operator cash grab of raising facility fees to $8 per emplanement. These airports seem to be run for the benefit of construction interests and union labor, and the more taj mahals and rental car centers and retail malls that they can build, the happier they are. The reason they love these PFCs is that passengers are weak and don’t organize. Let them pay for their buildings by charging the airlines rent and landing fees – the airlines are big enough to negotiate from a position or power or move their service – it creates a moderating factor on unnecessary construction.

  9. Gary – actually many of the betting sites have the election very close. Also, if you look at 538 analysis Biden has to win by over 2% of the popular vote before he is even a 50% chance of winning the Presidency (due to the Electoral College). This election is very dynamic and there will be other changes. 3 debates also will be a chance for the candidates to build their case (or shoot themselves in the foot). It will be interesting to see how inept Joe looks on live TV without his handlers and a teleprompter. I understand there is a large group that will vote for Biden simply because they hate Trump but understand he doesn’t instill passion in his voters and there are key constituents (Bernie voters, many blacks and Cuban Americans) that simply are not sold on Joe. Doubt may (outside the Cuban Americans) will vote for Trump but not voting for Biden may accomplish the same thing.

    Don’t bank on Biden Presidency just yet. I realize you live in the liberal enclave of Austin but don’t just listen to your echo chamber.

    BTW – his transportation policies alone (if they were widely published) would cause many not to vote for him. Lower speed limits, increased taxes and more regulation – REALLY????

  10. OMFG, this is just a wish list from a neoliberal group, THIS LIST WAS NOT PUT OUT BY THE BIDEN CAMPAIGN.

    Gary, looks like you’ve begun augmenting your click-bait with troll-bait as well. It’s dishonest, deceitful, and sadly par for your course.

  11. Anyone, other than the millions of “on the government dole freeloaders, needs to realize these are but a prelude to an agenda that will destroy American economic freedom and induvial liberties. Time to move on from all the “social change” nonsense and buck up realism! This is socialism in its extreme form and the goal is to make everyone literally a ward of the state and totally dependent on it.

  12. -AC

    I agree with many of your sentiments and those of others who have commented above, but
    I truly think that from many of Gary’s recent writings, he might be experiencing second thoughts on his commitment to the Democrat party.

    First, having moved to Texas, no one can seriously dispute that he has not noticed how much more take home pay he has not having to pay a state income tax.

    Second, I do take issue with your calling Austin a liberal area. It might have been once upon a time, but given that the city council has agreed to cut its police department budget demonstrates to yours truly that it truly has gone off its rocker and now mirrors its slogan of “Keeping Austin Weird.”

    Third, I think a number of democrat leaning voters are having second thoughts on voting for Biden and may just stay home, as a rebuke to the party moving too far to the left, and that does not include the many working class Blue Collar democrats of all ethnicity who are in Trump’s camp, not to mention small business owners of whatever stripe, African-American men and others alienated from the current party. After all, in a recent poll, the demographic groups that labelled safety/law and order issues as one of the top issues of the campaign, were conservative Republicans AND African-Americans.

    Although Biden has tepidly squeaked that violence is not a solution, and even mentioned ANTIFA, he dare not name or criticize BLM lest his fragile coalition of white college educated leftists and corporate plutocrats abandon him.

    Finally, the policy planks as outlined by Gary above, I think he notes with some trepidation.

    I may be wrong, and I still think Gary will vote Democrat, but not so much in support of Biden or the policy plank, but more out of a distaste for Trump — too bad for him, that won’t carry the day in Texas or nationally, if the “real” polls continue to trend as they do — make this distinction because almost every national polling organization still oversamples Democrats, and many generally acknowledge that many Trump voters will not give their true preference in such a politicized environment that we currently find ourselves in.

    Consequently, Gary will be happy that these policies noted above will not come to pass, but he can still maintain over a bottle of white wine or sake at his local Japanese teppanaki that he did not vote for Trump!

  13. – Christian,

    Sorry, but the first to troll was Gene, a member of your group, who said that Trump won the first time by resorting to fraud.

    Sorry, but that is clearly inaccurate as the only one who resorted to dirty tricks was Hillary’s Steele dossier, and her non-appearance in critical swing states that went (barely) for Trump.

    This time the economy was in recession but is clawing its way back, and look for Trump campaign ads to remind voters that prior to the pandemic the overall unemployment rate was @ 3.5%.
    Covid-19 might resonate with some latte white collar workers who can work remotely, but you better believe that blue collar and gig workers want to start earning $$ again, and Democrat governors who keep their states closed down by resort to unreasonable rules (which have recently been struck down in PA) likely have other priorities and are fertile ground that Trump will reap to win the election…..

  14. @HADLEY – Interesting that you know you’re a troll yet continue. Also, Gene and I differ in opinion and he’s no more on my team than yours. He just didn’t need to proclaim himself a troll as you did. If the shoe fits…

  15. Biden got the Dem nomination because he represented the consensus of the Democratic party, not because he supported all the same programs that Sanders supported. Most of the items on your Bernie pipe dream list would never pass a Democrat-controlled Congress because the working majority of Democrats don’t support them.

  16. At first I was sad to see that I would have to drive slower, pay more for all goods that are shipped by trucks and the much higher fees for air fare if Biden was elected but then I realized that the air fare increases wouldn’t matter because I would no longer be able to afford to travel because of the other massive tax increases we’d see if we vote for Biden.

  17. If Biden should be elected, I hope his transportation policy also includes the development of unused airport space (think Stewart airport near New York City, for example) along with rail/busway links to those airports. Moreover, I think that high-speed rail in such areas as Florida, Texas, the Great Lakes area and the California corridor (i.e. between San Diego and San Francisco, perhaps with stations at such airports as Los Angeles LAX or San Francisco SFO included) would benefit both the rail and air travel industries–not to mention the travelers.

  18. After a recent trip to Montana and South Dakota, and enjoying their 80 MPH speed limits, two thumbs down to lowering limits.

  19. Fun fact – Clinton lead in RCP on this date in 2016 was 1.5 points…quite a bit different vs. now. MAGA worshippers, keep pretending that those same independents are going to pull the lever for him yet again after these 4 years.

    @dee (formerly known as “dot”) – funny that you call someone an idiot, yet you lead off with “your an idiot” vs. “you’re”…whoops.

  20. Well I personally don’t fly on a plane but if people can’t be kind no matter where your at then keep your mouth shut until you get to where your going and then bitch to yourself. I don’t care what the issue may be. If you need to make a complaints do it nicely or keep your mouth shut. Have you ever wondered what someone thinks about you

  21. Yes, let’s go back to the 19th century and give $8 billion dollars for passenger rail.

    Will Biden ride around in “Rail Force One”? Will Biden abolish the Air Force and create the Rail Force?

    China uses slave labor to build out its high-speed rail. Is that part of Biden’s plan?

    “The Money Pit” should be the name of Biden’s transportation plan.

  22. Hadley V Baxendale. Well said and you have demonstrated for many others that a conversation about the political candidates does not need the “cutesy” little names and can be civil and intelligent. I will vote policy and not personality.
    Page 2. I did have to move out of Austin City Limits. When the city arbitrarily assigns a value of $450,000 to a lot valued at $40,000 10 years earlier, it’s time to sell and get out. When I moved to Austin in 1977, Austin was laid back and inexpensive. The Chamber of Commerce hung the “Keep Austin Weird” sign out and the subsequent city councils embraced it . . . even though it’s residents and venues are anything but weird when compared to the west coast.

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