Strengthening the Ability of Public Transportation to Reduce Our Dependence on Foreign Oil

September 9, 2008

Good morning Chairman Dodd, Ranking Member Shelby and members of the Committee. I am pleased to appear before you this morning and very much appreciate the invitation.

The purpose of my testimony today is to discuss some of the broad trends in how Americans travel and the changes brought on by the high costs of energy. In so doing, I would also like to share some thoughts on how federal policy can use public transportation to reduce total energy consumption, while strengthening economic growth.

Mr. Chairman, I support the transit provisions in the substitute to the energy bill (S. 3268) as they are consistent with Brookings’ research and policy work on transportation reform. Yet there is much more to do. With the current federal surface transportation law due to expire next year at the same time important climate and energy bills are being considered, Congress has a unique opportunity to promote innovative solutions to help communities grow in more sustainable, inclusive, and competitive ways.

While there is definitely a need for additional resources for the American public transit system, this must be about more than just money. We need an extreme makeover with a fundamentally new approach to almost every aspect of national transportation policy: how we allocate funding, set priorities, apportion responsibilities, engage the private sector, price the system, connect transportation to other policies, and how we move from our current decisionmaking to empirically-grounded policy. To echo a common theme articulated by the national transportation policy and revenue commission – as well as several others – we need a new beginning.