The FAST Act: The Transportation Law’s Wide-Reaching Effects

While the FAST Act is largely described as a surface transportation bill, the newly passed law could potentially affect planes and trains as well as automobiles. Among the biggest potential winners in the association world is a trade group focused on bringing about privately funded passenger rail.

The major transportation package signed into law last week by President Obama was welcomed by a variety of associations—with the members of one trade group in particular likely to benefit significantly from the law’s passage.

That’s thanks to the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act making room for the possibility of a private-sector passenger-rail comeback. The law would allow up to three of Amtrak’s 15 long-distance lines to be taken over by private companies as part of a pilot program, according to The Wall Street Journal. And the four member organizations in the Association of Independent Passenger Rail Operators (AIPRO) plan to make a pitch to take over those lines. The companies would likely focus on cost reduction to emphasize their competitiveness with Amtrak, which is partially funded through taxpayer money, though is run like a private company.

“I don’t know that Amtrak won’t come back with something that’s as strong or stronger, but by God that’s what they need to do in order to compete in the real world, in the commercial world,” AIPRO president Ray Chambers told the Journal.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), however, was skeptical of whether private companies would hop aboard. The association, which expressed a mixed opinion on the law’s funding for passenger trains, noted that the law clearly encourages the private sector to leap into the passenger-rail business.

“However, while the bill clearly wants private involvement, it’s much lighter on the ‘public’ side of the partnership equation,” NARP wrote in an assessment of the new law. “Without more public skin in the game—that is, government funding—it’s extremely unlikely private sector companies will invest billions of dollars in complex, multi-year transportation projects.”

Other Transportation Takes

Beyond the world of passenger trains, a variety of other associations had opinions on the FAST Act, including the following:

The U.S. Travel Association praised the law’s focus on improving roads. “Focusing surface transportation resources to support the U.S. travel and tourism sector ensures the continued thriving of an industry that creates jobs and economic activity in every corner of the country,” said U.S. Travel President and CEO Roger Dow.

The American Bus Association gave credit to the law for keeping buses in mind as part of the transit process—particularly in terms of city planning and in recognition of over-the-road buses as eligible for high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes.

The Association for Commuter Transportation (ACT), meanwhile, emphasized that while the passage of the FAST Act was welcomed, things shouldn’t slow down. “Passage of the FAST Act was a sort of political miracle and something that should be applauded,” ACT President Rob Henry said in a statement. “But the political challenges passing a 5-year bill of nearly flat funding underscores the reality that we must do more to maximize our existing network.”

The Tire Industry Association had pushed against the FAST Act’s additional reporting requirements for tire purchases but was unable to get that reporting requirement removed. The association was, however, able to get an additional study mandated by the law. As a result, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will assess whether tire manufacturers should be required to include electronic identifiers on tires.

Airlines for America (A4A) expressed its disappointment that the final law included a fee-diversion tactic to use airline ticket fees to help pay for the road transportation bill. “It is unfortunate that, once again, Congress is placing the burden to fund highway spending on the backs of the flying public,” A4A said in a statement last week.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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