BAF IN THE NEWS
Reuters: School, infrastructure bond measures fill U.S. ballots (w/ quotes from Kerry O’Hare)
U.S. voters on Tuesday will decide the fate of $70.3 billion of municipal bond issuance, the largest amount of borrowing requests in a decade, with much of it earmarked to help pay for fixing the nation's crumbling infrastructure.
Politico Playbook 11/6: The final WHIRLWIND begins -- Clinton ahead in WaPo/ABC, NBC/WSJ, POLITICO/Morning Consult polls -- ROAD WARRIORS share their post-campaign vacation plans -- 16 BREAKOUT MEDIA STARS -- B’DAY: Dan Senor
SPOTTED -- Clinton aides Adrienne Elrod and Sara Latham missing the motorcade after the Katy Perry concert in Philadelphia. Elrod called Ed Rendell, who had two spots left in his van. Debra Messing was in the car. When they got to the Logan Hotel -- where Hillary was staying -- Rendell announced on a megaphone that they were arriving. Rendell -- a former mayor of Philadelphia and governor of Pennsylvania -- also commandeered a police escort through Philly.
Utility Drive: Dept. of Transportation unveils national electric vehicle charging network
Moving to support the electrification of the transportation sector and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the federal government this week announced 55 routes that will serve as the basis for a national network of “alternative fuel” corridors spanning 35 states.
New York Times: A Slow Ride Toward the Future of Public Transportation
A small electric bus chugged along at a slow but steady seven miles per hour when a white van, entering the street from the side, cut in front of it. The bus slowed, as if its driver had hit the brakes, and got back up to speed after the van moved out of the way.
The Hill: New regs for Monday: Driverless cars, speed limits, quality control
Monday’s edition of the Federal Register contains new guidelines for driverless cars, speed limits for trucks, and quality controls for farmers.
Tech Crunch: Why the Department of Transportation’s self-driving car guidelines aren’t enough
Ford, GM, Toyota and VW are just a handful of the car manufacturers planning to put self-driving cars on the road in the next five years. If you ask Uber or Tesla, they might say driverless cars have already arrived… which means we’re running out of time to secure one of the juiciest new targets for hackers.
Slate: While You Weren’t Looking, Donald Trump Released a Plan to Privatize America’s Roads and Bridges
So this is kind of cute. While most of us were tearing our hair out over the FBI and Hillary Clinton's emails last weekend, Donald Trump's campaign quietly released a plan to privatize new infrastructure development in the United States. I know, that's not very sexy on the surface. But given that the man might be president come Tuesday, it seems worth remarking upon. Because it could mean we'll all be paying to drive on more roads built for profit.
FiveThirtyEight: Trump And Clinton Both Want To Fix Infrastructure. But That Doesn’t Mean They’ll Succeed.
If there’s one issue that Democrats and Republicans seem to agree on, it’s that America’s infrastructure is in need of an upgrade. Many of the nation’s highways and bridges are deficient; its airports and waterways are clogged; its power lines and levees are in disrepair.
Wall Street Journal: Logistics Hiring Surged by 7,500 Jobs in October (full article follows Morning Transportation)
Logistics companies returned to hiring last month after a dip in September, adding thousands of jobs in trucking, warehousing and air transportation.
Associated Press: Philly’s weeklong transit strike over with tentative deal
Philadelphia’s weeklong transit strike is over. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and the union representing about 4,700 transit workers announced a tentative agreement early Monday.
Philadelphia Inquirer: SEPTA: Deal reached to end strike
Philadelphia’s transit strike is over. The week-long work stoppage that sidelined subways, trolleys, and buses and threatened to complicate a closely contested presidential election ended in the pre-dawn hours Monday as SEPTA and leadership for the Transportation Workers Union Local 234 reached a tentative five-year contract agreement for 4,738 transit personnel.
Philadelphia Business Journal: Another transit strike is over. Is there a better way to solve labor disputes?
The residents of the Philadelphia region awoke this morning to good news. A new labor agreement was reached by Transit Workers Union Local 234 and SEPTA, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority
Chicago Sun Times: The money behind the ‘Safe Roads Amendment’
Road builders and construction trade unions joined forces to raise about $4 million to sell a constitutional amendment on the Illinois ballot Tuesday that would ensure billions of state dollars are set aside for transportation projects over the next decade and beyond.
Washington Post: Are ferry, gondola, high-speed rail ideas for D.C. region realistic or fantasy?
How about a high-speed ferry to transport commuters from Woodbridge to the D.C. waterfront in under an hour? Or a gondola to carry people through the skies over Rosslyn to Georgetown in less than five minutes? A superfast train that could take you from Union Station in Northeast Washington to Baltimore in 15 minutes and another that would get you to Richmond in 90 — more than an hour faster than today’s Amtrak service?
Gotham Gazette: On Election Day, Federal Policy & Funding Stakes High for New York City
Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will be in New York City on election night, and one of them will be the next President of the United States. Through the results of the presidential election, which comes down to one native New Yorker and one New York transplant, and with the congressional elections on the ballot, there’s a great deal at stake for New York City.
By Brianna Gurciullo | 11/07/2016 05:40 AM EDT
With help from Tanya Snyder and Lauren Gardner
WHO'S LIABLE WHEN A SELF-DRIVING CAR CRASHES? As excitement grows for driverless cars, consensus is building around the idea that automakers, not drivers, will be held responsible for crashes in the future, as our Tanya Snyder reports for Pros. Knowing that they would face legal responsibility, manufacturers could hesitate to roll out self-driving vehicles or jack up their prices to recover projected costs, which would slow widespread use.
Drivers aren't off the hook yet: Still, Tanya points out that cars without steering wheels or pedals probably won't become the norm on American roads for decades. In the meantime, human drivers could be found at fault for accidents for a number of reasons: They didn't take over steering when the vehicle warned them to do so, they didn't get a broken sensor replaced or they used the car in circumstances that the automaker warned it couldn't handle.
Lots to be determined: One of the main arguments for developing self-driving cars is that the technology will drastically reduce crashes across the country — the overwhelming majority of which are caused by human mistakes. But crashes involving driverless cars, though fewer, could be costlier and deadlier, Tanya reports. In theory, carmakers could shift some liability onto a third party that certifies a vehicle's safety before it is available on the market. But the industry has already protested DOT's suggestion that it may explore acquiring premarket approval power.
HAPPY MONDAY: Good morning and thanks for tuning in to POLITICO's Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports. Please send tips, feedback and, of course, song lyrics to email@example.com or @brigurciullo.
Want to keep up with all of MT's song picks? Follow our Spotify playlist.
As a Pro, you have access to Pro's transition-focused newsletter: Transition 2017. This new offering covers the who, what, when and why of the presidential transition, providing the insight you need to navigate the changing landscape in Washington. The first edition lands in your inbox Nov. 9 — and then every afternoon through early Spring. Sign up today.
'SWITCHING' RULE PITS SHIPPERS AGAINST FREIGHTS: STB's proposed rule on "reciprocal switching" has set off what's sure to be a long fight between shipping industries and freight railroads. As our Lauren Gardner reports, reciprocal switching occurs "when one freight carrier moves goods to an interchange where another railroad takes over the cars for a fee."
"The proposal is intended to give shippers more leeway to ask STB to order reciprocal switching, a practice sanctioned by law today but that the board has never granted outside voluntary agreements between railroads," Lauren reports. "Shippers say the bar has been set too high for them to successfully compel freights to switch despite complaints about competition, while freights say the lack of cases shows the current rules work." Pros can check out the full story here.
GERMAN INVESTIGATION OF VOLKSWAGEN EXPANDS: Prosecutors in Germany are now including Hans Dieter Poetsch, the chairman of VW's supervisory board, in their investigation of possible market manipulation connected to the automaker's emissions scandal, Reuters reports . Poetsch was the company's CFO before he took the role of chairman last year. Prosecutors made their investigation public in June and said they would focus "on evidence that VW's duty to disclose possible financial damage from the emissions test cheating may have arisen before Sept. 22, 2015, when it publicly admitted wrongdoing," according to Reuters.
And now ... carbon emissions? Meanwhile, the California Air Resources Board found that some Audi vehicles had software that seemed to let them cheat testing for carbon dioxide emissions, the Wall Street Journal reports. VW's year-long scandal has involved diesel engines and nitrogen oxides. What CARB found involves both diesel and gasoline engines and CO2. Bild am Sonntag, a German newspaper, first reported about CARB's findings.
RIDE-HAILING, CAR-SHARING DEALS FOR ELECTION DAY: MT gathered some special offers for getting to and from the polls Tuesday in the D.C area. (Note: This roundup is probably not exhaustive, and make sure to click the links for details!) Zipcar is letting users reserve a limited number of cars for free between 6 and 10 p.m. Because of the latest SafeTrack surge, car2go is temporarily lowering its hourly and daily rates and offering free registration. Uber and Google partnered to give app users a feature that helps them find their polling place and request a ride to it, but there's no discount. Lyft users can get a 45 percent discount (in tribute to the soon-to-be-chosen 45th president of the United States) on a single ride from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., as The Verge reports. That means they can take a discounted ride to their polling location but not on the way back home.
Wednesday — NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind gives a talk called "Highly Automated Vehicles: Challenges and Opportunities" at Volpe.
Thursday — NHTSA holds a public meeting on its driverless car guidance. Transportation for America holds an expert panel discussion in Minneapolis on the election's effects on transportation policy. FRA and NJ Transit hold an open house in New Jersey on the Hudson Tunnel Project.
NJ TRANSIT HEAD SHARES RESULTS OF FRA PROBE: New Jersey Transit's new executive director promised on Friday that the agency would address a slew of safety violations that FRA identified months before a deadly crash in Hoboken. At a state legislative hearing Friday, Steven Santoro said FRA had discovered that employees used their personal cellphones while working and sometimes failed to do brake testing. The federal agency also found that trains needed emergency equipment and workers didn't always blow horns at crossings, POLITICO New Jersey's Katherine Landergan reports.
Santoro said that, in response to the FRA investigation, his agency is doing more inspections and has toughened penalties for employees who break the rules. He said that NJ Transit is on track to implement PTC by the federal government's deadline of December 2018.
PTC at Hoboken? Santoro also said that NJ Transit would explore whether the Hoboken terminal should have PTC or some other safety technology, The Associated Press reports. The terminal received an exemption from PTC requirements six years ago. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, has now questioned whether terminals should be given such an exemption.
ICYMI: Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, former allies of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, were convicted on Friday in the trial over shutting down lanes to the George Washington Bridge three years ago. As Ryan Hutchins reports for POLITICO New Jersey, prosecutors claimed that the lanes were shut down to get back at the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, who didn't endorse Christie for reelection at the time. Christie, in a statement , said he "had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments" and he "will set the record straight in the coming days regarding the lies that were told by the media and in the courtroom."
Reaction from Hillary Clinton's campaign: Press secretary Brian Fallon (@brianefallon) tweeted Friday: "I know Trump does not do press conferences any more but he should be pressed on whether he is going to keep Christie as his Transition chair." Running mate Mike Pence said Sunday that there aren't any plans to make Christie step down, as POLITICO's Jeremy Herb reported.
POSSIBLE PRECLEARANCE EXPANSION MOVES FORWARD: DHS announced Friday the 11 airports that are its newest candidates for Preclearance. The airports are in nine countries, mostly in Latin America and Western Europe. Every year, over 10 million people take flights from the airports to the United States, according to DHS. The expansion depends on negotiations between the United States and the host countries, as our Lauren Gardner reports for Pros. It would be the first time that a South American country is included in the program.
Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, lauded the announcement in a statement Friday. "Giving travelers an innovative, convenient and efficient entry process with Preclearance sends the message that they are welcome here — and those who feel welcomed are more likely to visit again," Dow said.
IG IDENTIFIES FLAWS IN FTA'S TRANSIT SYSTEM OVERSIGHT: FTA needs benchmarks for finishing up its policies on acquiring and then giving back safety oversight authority over rail transit systems, according to DOT's inspector general. As your MT host reports for Pros, the transit industry is confused about when and how the federal agency would assume oversight of a system. The IG's other findings: FTA lacks the staffing and resources it needs in its Office of Transit Safety and Oversight, the federal agency hasn't developed an oversight program focused on data and risk, and its standards aren't enforceable. In the case of its oversight of WMATA, FTA hasn't finalized its policies for the undertaking, causing "significant frustration."
SHIFTING GEARS: Wednesday is Donelle Harder's last day as communications director for Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Harder is heading to Oklahoma City for a new job.
Over at Boeing, Anne Marie Chotvacs has joined the company as senior director of international operations and policy. For eight years, she served as clerk and staff director of the the House Appropriations' Foreign Operations Subcommittee, our friends at POLITICO Influence report. John Blazey also got a promotion — to vice president of global corporate citizenship in Chicago. Nicole Vernon is taking Blazey's place as vice president of transportation and aviation.
— "A slow ride toward the future of public transportation." The New York Times.
— "Victims of Palm Springs bus crash may face years of uncertainty over compensation." The Los Angeles Times.
— "Report: Bus driver may've lost consciousness in other crash." The Associated Press.
— "'Tolls are coming' to Germany's autobahns." POLITICO Europe.
— "Gov. Wolf seeks end to transit strike, city calls for election-day suspension." The Philadelphia Inquirer.
— "Coast Guard orders unsafe ship to stay in Baltimore, stranding its crew." The Baltimore Sun.
— "Potential bidders for Takata may balk at GM bankruptcy precedent." Reuters.
THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 32 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 326 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 1 day! Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,426 days.
THE DAY AHEAD:
9 a.m. — DOT and the Naval Sea Systems Command hold a veterans town hall. DOT Conference Center, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE.
2 p.m. — The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board begins three days of meetings. Access Board Conference Room, 1331 F St. NW, Suite 800.
Did we miss an event? Let MT know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stories from POLITICO Pro
Could liability issues foul up the rollout of driverless cars? Back
By Tanya Snyder | 11/07/2016 05:00 AM EDT
The advent of self-driving cars would likely shift liability for crashes away from drivers and onto manufacturers — a change that could raise the price of the vehicles and possibly slow deployment of the technology.
For now, the daunting burden of crash liability isn't slowing down automakers' race to bring to market a fully autonomous car. But that could be because some think manufacturers may simply shift the cost burden to consumers in the final analysis.
Bill Ford, the executive chairman of Ford Motor Co., wouldn't answer directly when asked last month whether the liability burden could discourage automakers from introducing the technology, but suggested there's plenty of time to work out the kinks.
"These are all things we have to do really thoughtfully," Ford said. "It's early days yet; there's lots to be discussed ... but the end game, to me, is really thrilling."
Daniel Gage, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said automakers expect to assume liability "for any system they design and install in a vehicle at the time of assembly." But he added that they "expect liability protection from any aftermarket/third party conversion where the added system fails or if the vehicle is used in ways not intended by the manufacturer."
But a recent report from the RAND Corporation noted that automakers "may price this technology to recover their expected liability costs," leading to "higher prices and lower adoption of this technology than would be socially optimal."
There's history as precedent — RAND also observed that automakers resisted a mandate for air bags out of concern that legal responsibility for crashes would shift from the driver to manufacturers.
And though automakers are projecting confidence, the insurance industry is less certain.
In a statement to shareholders in 2015, Allstate warned that "fewer, safer cars would benefit consumers and the environment, but could affect demand for auto insurance." And in a recent SEC filing, Progressive admitted that "the outlook with current and expected vehicle technology features, up to and including autonomous features, is for continued reductions."
Of course, all but the most optimistic forecasts say mass introduction of fully driverless cars, with no steering wheel or pedals, are still decades away. Until then, liability will likely be shared: If a human driver failed to take control when the car indicated the need, then that would be the driver's fault.
Similarly, vehicle owners will likely always be responsible for proper upkeep and the regular replacement of key parts, like sensors, and a crash resulting from the dereliction of that responsibility would still be the owner's fault. If an owner uses the vehicle in conditions it's not yet capable of navigating, that could also be considered the owner's fault — unless they can prove that the carmaker didn't adequately warn them of the limitations. And there will always be some blameless incidents, like a tree falling on a car.
Just about any other crash, though, would be considered the fault of the manufacturer.
Any changes to that regime would be crafted at the state level, where insurance policy has been established for nearly 150 years.
The RAND report authors suggest that federal intervention might be necessary to help lower costs to the manufacturer and the consumer in order to speed widespread adoption. Lawmakers, they suggest, could cap automakers' liability for crashes or provide a "reinsurance backstop" as they have for terrorism claims following September 11.
In its guidance on driverless cars, NHTSA floated the idea of convening a commission to study liability and insurance issues and make recommendations to states. But experts say even that could be an exercise in futility, given the broad diversity in how states address these issues.
And Michigan DOT Director Kirk Steudle said, "I can see a bunch of states that would say no just because the federal government suggested it," adding, "You can probably name them."
More states could join the dozen that already have decided to go the route of no-fault insurance. Alternatively, they could opt for "strict liability" for vehicle operators on the assumption that early adopters of relatively untested technology know they're engaging in risky behavior. But automakers, insurance professionals and lawyers agree that the most likely scenario is that manufacturers will end up with the bulk of the liability.
Alan Kaplan, partner and chair of the law firm Herrick Feinstein's Product Liability Practice Group, said automakers already get involved in costly litigation with crash victims.
"They have to set reserves; they have to set budgets for their litigation expenses each year," Kaplan said. "I think the way they're looking at it, [with driverless cars], you're going to eliminate a very large type of lawsuit that they invariably get sucked into even though they may not be the true culprit. Frankly, it's a strategy to sue any potential target in one of these lawsuits."
Even if self-driving cars cause fewer crashes, leading to fewer lawsuits against manufacturers, the ones that do arise may be much costlier — and deadlier. Also, product liability lawsuits are far more expensive to defend than traditional auto insurance claims.
That's part of the reason James Lynch, chief actuary for the Insurance Information Institute, questions automakers' assertion that they don't mind taking on all the liability.
"It's very, very, very unusual for any party to say, 'yes, the liability lies with me — all of it,'" said Lynch. "When a company says, 'yes, we'll accept this liability when our vehicle is at fault,' well, of course you will. Your vehicle is at fault."
Automakers could potentially offload some responsibility if a third party certified the safety of the vehicle before it hit the market. But premarket approval was probably the single most unpopular proposal in NHTSA's entire 112-page document on driverless cars.
In the end, it may come back to passing on costs to consumers in the form of higher prices for vehicles.
"A car stays on the road for 30 years, currently," Lynch said. "If liability goes to either the manufacturer or someone in that chain, you're going to have to have 30 years of insurance baked into the price that's paid at the beginning."
Freights and shippers square off on 'switching' rule Back
By Lauren Gardner | 11/04/2016 04:25 PM EDT
Freight railroads and the industries who use them to move products nationwide are girding for a long battle over whether regulators should make it easier for shippers to force rail lines to compete for their business.
The fight is over the Surface Transportation Board's proposed rule on "reciprocal switching" — when one freight carrier moves goods to an interchange where another railroad takes over the cars for a fee.
The proposal is intended to give shippers more leeway to ask STB to order reciprocal switching, a practice sanctioned by law today but that the board has never granted outside voluntary agreements between railroads. Shippers say the bar has been set too high for them to successfully compel freights to switch despite complaints about competition, while freights say the lack of cases shows the current rules work.
Beyond the substance of it, the row comes at an inconvenient time, when the makeup of the board is in flux. Congress expanded the board's membership last year by two positions, which President Barack Obama has yet to attempt to fill. And Ann D. Begeman, STB's sole Republican representative, will have to vacate her spot by the end of the year unless she's renominated.
And the fight is sure to spill over into the next administration.
Shippers and railroads have a lot at stake — the proposed rule would mark the first major change to how railroads move goods around since the industry was deregulated in 1980.
For shipping interests, who say a lot's changed in the three decades since the railroads were teetering toward collapse, revisiting the rules is welcome.
"What's happened in the intervening 25 years is the rail industry has gone from being on the ropes financially to doing very well financially," said Jeff Moreno, an attorney who worked on the initial petition for rulemaking by the National Industrial Transportation League.
And STB seems to agree.
Consolidation throughout the freight industry — there are now just seven major carriers operating in North America — and its markedly improved financial health are valid reasons to reevaluate the regulatory approach to reciprocal switching, STB said in its proposal. The current standard, which requires shippers to show railroads are engaging in anti-competitive activities to be awarded switching privileges, has over time set "an unrealistically high bar" for shippers to meet, STB said.
Freight rail customers have filed few switching requests in the last 30 years, none of which have been granted. Shippers say they've registered competition concerns but have been unable to prove what amounts to an antitrust case against a railroad. Meanwhile, freights say the lack of cases proves the existing rules work to keep them in check while limiting their regulatory burden.
Under the proposal, STB would consider shipper requests for reciprocal switching based on two "prongs" in the law that allow for the practice. First, when it's practicable and in the public interest, or when it's deemed necessary to provide competitive service.
Railroads could rebut shippers' cases, and STB would decline the request if carriers show the proposed switching would be unsafe or not feasible, or that it would be a drag on the carrier's service.
Moreno said the rail industry's concerns about switching's effects on service would be addressed in the rule, since freights could present evidence of any adverse impacts to STB.
Freight railroads want to see the status quo maintained, arguing that shippers are getting safe and reliable service at rates — when adjusted for inflation — lower than they were before deregulation.
"The marketplace is working," Association of American Railroads President and CEO Ed Hamberger said. "There's just no reason for the board to go beyond its current rules."
In comments submitted to STB last week, AAR urged regulators to withdraw the rule and argued it's illegal because it doesn't require shippers to demonstrate a need for a reciprocal switch.
UPS also panned the proposal, saying it would degrade intermodal freight movement and could spur the logistics giant to shift its cargo back onto roads. Additionally, rail labor groups oppose the rule based on the negative effects past regulatory changes have had on their members.
Based on the suggested rule put forward by the National Industrial Transportation League in a 2011 petition, DOT estimated that 1.3 percent of carloads would be affected by changes to the current switching regime. But Hamberger said it's difficult to project the impact of STB's proposal because it doesn't define the scope of what traffic would be covered.
Indeed, Begeman of the STB dissented from most of the board's proposal. While she acknowledged that existing rules may not meet congressional intent to permit reciprocal switching when necessary, she argued the proposal isn't supported by data showing there won't be "unintended consequences."
The rule "also ignores fundamental questions that the Board should have asked and answered" in the five years it's taken to issue a proposal, Begeman wrote. That includes how regulators might alleviate the complexity and costs involved in pursuing switching cases, and what exactly parties would have to demonstrate to STB to argue their cases for or against a switch.
There's also a question of how long STB would take to decide the cases, especially given a new congressional mandate to make other regulatory decisions more quickly. Congress reauthorized STB in 2015 but did not order the board to complete the rule in question.
"We have no idea how the proposed rule would or even could be utilized," she said, adding the potential effects are murky for shippers and freights alike.
Industries supportive of the proposal, such as chemical and agricultural groups, urged the board to adopt procedures to keep switching cases from dragging on and to define the burden of proof parties must present to argue their positions. They also asked STB to clarify how far away from a rail interchange is a "reasonable distance" for regulators to allow reciprocal switching, with farming interests noting that their facilities are often located in rural areas that can be 100 miles removed from the nearest interchange.
The issue has drawn attention on Capitol Hill, with members staking positions often based on their constituencies rather than their party.
A bipartisan group of senators from Louisiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin sent STB Chairman Dan Elliott a letter Nov. 3 urging him to move forward with the proposed rule, calling reciprocal switching a "congressionally authorized practice" that would spur competitive pricing deals for businesses and consumers.
But plenty of lawmakers — from House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) to Senate Commerce ranking Democrat Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) — have written to STB warning against any regulatory action that could stifle the freight rail industry and in turn hurt shippers.
It will likely take months for STB to outline next steps on the rule, as board members meet with industry organizations to discuss it further.
"We hope they'll take another look through the filings and realize the system is recognized as best in the world for good reason," Hamberger said.
POLITICO New Jersey: NJ Transit says feds identified safety problems months before Hoboken crash Back
By Katherine Landergan | 11/04/2016 06:59 PM EDT
TRENTON, N.J. — Federal investigators uncovered a host of safety failures at NJ Transit, including a lack of train brake testing and workers using personal cellphones, just months before the September fatal train crash in Hoboken, N.J.
The findings were fully disclosed for the first time Friday during a four-hour hearing to investigate the troubled commuter agency.
Steven Santoro, NJ Transit's newly appointed executive director, vowed to correct the widespread violations.
"These findings are unacceptable," he told lawmakers.
Santoro also revealed that the Federal Railroad Administration, in its spring investigation, found a lack of emergency equipment on trains, workers failing to blow horns at railroad crossings and train cars stopping too close to adjacent tracks. NJ Transit has responded by implementing additional safety inspections and higher penalties for workers who violate the rules, he said.
The investigation by Senate and Assembly committees was prompted, in part, by the September crash of a commuter train at the Hoboken terminal that killed one person and left more than 100 others injured. The lawmakers, armed with subpoena power, dove into the agency's safety problems, financial troubles and failure to fill critical positions.
Assemblyman John McKeon, chairman of his chamber's judiciary oversight committee, threatened to use the power after the NJ Transit failed to disclose the names of all of its highest paid officials.
As part of the investigation, lawmakers sent NJ Transit a series of questions, including the names and salaries of top officials. McKeon said the agency's 97-page response made no mention of Gov. Chris Christie's former press secretary, Michael Drewniak, who was hired in 2015 and served as the agency's interim chief of staff.
"Frankly, I was outraged," McKeon told reporters after the hearing. "What do they think, that we don't read the newspapers?"
McKeon said he has identified 10 NJ Transit employees who have ties to the Christie administration and are making between $74,000 and $170,000 annually. Only two of those workers were named in the agency's response.
McKeon demanded that NJ Transit hand over the names of all employees hired after January 2010 — the month Christie took office — and who are earning at least $70,000. Failure to comply will result in a subpoena, he said.
"The committee is not going to be trifled with," he told Santoro. "What's at stake is the life and blood of the economy of this state and the safety of tens of thousands of New Jerseyans. We're going to stop NJ Transit, the Port Authority and other places as a political dumping ground for patronage."
Santoro also testified that the agency is on pace to implement technology that can automatically stop runaway trains by December 2018, the federal deadline.
Many commuter railroads are lagging behind in installing this technology, known as positive train control. But NJ Transit has been among the slowest, and only recently began testing the technology on some track segments. Santoro said the agency will add 20 new positions to implement the technology, and is scheduled to test PTC on another rail line in April.
He also said NJ Transit is committed to filling 12 vacant positions in its office that oversees safety violations.
"You have my word that we have a renewed focus on our safety process," Santoro said.
This article first appeared on POLITICO New Jersey on Nov. 4, 2016.
Former Christie allies found guilty on all counts in Bridgegate trial Back
By Ryan Hutchins | 11/04/2016 11:48 AM EDT
NEWARK — Jurors on Friday found two former allies of Gov. Chris Christie guilty of closing lanes to the George Washington Bridge in what prosecutors had alleged was an act of political retribution.
The jurors deliberated all week before delivering a verdict on Friday morning, saying in U.S. District Court that they found Bill Baroni, a former top official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Bridget Anne Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff to Christie, guilty on all counts.
The two, who were indicted last May on charges of conspiracy, fraud and civil rights violations, face up to 20 years in prison under the most serious charges.
Baroni and Kelly were convicted of closing several local access lanes to the bridge — the world's busiest — and creating days of gridlock in Fort Lee, where the span is located.
Prosecutors argued the reason for the closures was to punish the Democratic mayor of the town for not endorsing Christie, a Republican, in his 2013 reelection bid. And while the indictment and much of the trial was focused on the retribution, a last-minute ruling by Judge Susan Wigenton removed any mention of political punishment from jury instructions, raising vehement objections from the defense.
As the jury deliberated on Tuesday, Kelly's lawyer, Michael Critchley, accused Wigenton of "directing a verdict of guilty." She rejected a formal request to reconsider her ruling.
In a statement released after the verdict, Christie reiterated that he had "no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments" and said he plans to "set the record straight in the coming days regarding the lies that were told by the media and in the courtroom."
Baroni, 44, was a close Christie confidant and the governor's top lieutenant at the Port, where he was deputy executive director. He previously served as a Republican state senator with a reputation on both sides of the aisle for his tenacity.
Kelly, a divorced mother of four school-aged children, was a Christie loyalist who worked her way up the ranks of the administration, though testimony during the trial suggested the 44-year-old never seemed to be a member of the governor's inner circle. Throughout the trial, defense attorneys suggested Kelly was more of a functionary than a leader — one who often bore the brunt of Christie's hair-trigger temper.
She struggled to hold back tears as the verdict was read on Friday, while Baroni betrayed little emotion. The two later appeared outside the courthouse, where their attorneys promised to appeal.
"I am innocent of these charges, and I am very, very looking forward to this appeal," said Baroni. Kelly, who appeared visibly shaken, did not speak. They remain free on bail with sentencing scheduled for Feb. 21.
The two were convicted of working with David Wildstein, who was the Port's director of interstate capital projects and became the government's star witness during that trial. He is the self-admitted mastermind of the scheme, and he has already pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the government.
The six-week federal trial included testimony from some of Christie's closest aides and advisers. And though Christie was never charged with a crime and did not appear in court, his presence loomed over the trial. Former aides detailed how the governor's office was used, from the earliest days of his first term, to advance the governor's political interests, including claims that the governor not only knew about the lane closures but approved the plan, believing it to be a "traffic study."
Christie, who is currently a top adviser to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, has denied any knowledge or involvement in the lane closures.
But the testimony of numerous witnesses — including several who are still in his good graces and were never accused of any wrongdoing — all said Christie was told of the lane closures long before the time frame he has acknowledged.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman told reporters outside the courthouse that he took "no pleasure" in the verdict. He declined to say why Christie or others around him were not charged, other to say they brought cases against those who they could prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" had broken the law.
"People should draw whatever conclusion they feel is warranted by the evidence about the governor's role," he said, saying it is not his job to "clear" people of wrongdoing, just to decide if a case can be brought.
"There was evidence that David Wildstein provided that the governor was told about the lane closures on Sept. 11 of 2013," he added. "He did not say anything beyond what you heard in the courtroom."
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who helped lead the legislative inquiry in the lane closures, told reporters on Friday that she will seek "further investigation" of the case, and that Christie's "claiming that he didn't know about this until January 2014 is patently ridiculous."
The Fort Lee mayor who was targeted in the scheme, Mark Sokolich, said in an interview on Friday that "if reform doesn't come of this, then shame on all of us."
"A bright light has been shined on a culture that is absolutely incomprehensible, where petty retribution is not only cultivated ... but it's actually rewarded," he said.
--additional reporting by Linh Tat
'Saddened' Christie maintains personal innocence after Bridgegate convictions Back
By POLITICO New Jersey staff | 11/04/2016 12:48 PM EDT
Following the conviction of two former allies on all counts for their involvement in the Bridgegate scandal, Gov. Chris Christie released a statement maintaining his own innocence in the matter.
In the statement, Christie said, "Like so many people in New Jersey, I'm saddened by this case and I'm saddened about the choices made by Bill Baroni, Bridget Kelly and David Wildstein. Today's verdict does not change this for me.
"But let me be clear once again, I had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments, and had no role in authorizing them. No believable evidence was presented to contradict that fact. Anything said to the contrary over the past six weeks in court is simply untrue."
Christie was cast in a harsh light during the trial of his former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly and former state senator Bill Baroni, who the governor appointed to a powerful post at the Port Authority, on charges related to a manufactured traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge that was part of a political revenge scheme.
The defendants argued that they were unaware of the political aspects of the lane closures — organized in 2013 to punish a Democratic mayor who declined to endorse Christie's re-election bid — and that they were being unfairly blamed for the incident.
Several witnesses at the trial gave testimony about what and when Christie knew about the incident that clashed with the governor's public version of events.
The full statement from Christie is below:
"On January 9, 2014, I apologized to the people of New Jersey for the conduct exhibited by some members of my Administration who showed a lack of respect for the appropriate role of government and for the people we serve. Those people were terminated by me and today, the jury affirms that decision by also holding them responsible for their own conduct.
"Like so many people in New Jersey, I'm saddened by this case and I'm saddened about the choices made by Bill Baroni, Bridget Kelly and David Wildstein. Today's verdict does not change this for me.
"But let me be clear once again, I had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments, and had no role in authorizing them. No believable evidence was presented to contradict that fact. Anything said to the contrary over the past six weeks in court is simply untrue."
"As a former federal prosecutor, I have respected these proceedings and refused to comment on the daily testimony from the trial. I will set the record straight in the coming days regarding the lies that were told by the media and in the courtroom."
Pence stands by Christie after aides' convictions Back
By Jeremy Herb | 11/06/2016 09:50 AM EDT
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said Sunday there are no plans — as of now — to remove New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as the campaign transition chief after two of Christie's former aides were convicted in the Bridgegate trial this past week.
Pence and his running mate, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, have put Hillary Clinton on defense over the FBI's investigation and re-investigation into her use of a private email server, a key part of Trump's campaign message to "drain the swamp" in Washington.
But the conviction of Christie's former aides has provided Clinton's campaign an opening to push back, and Clinton's team has pressed Trump to force Christie's resignation as transition team chairman.
Pence dismissed those suggestions on "Fox News" Sunday, pointing to Christie's statements that he did not have knowledge of the Bridgegate scheme involving a politically motivated shutdown of some of the lanes to the George Washington Bridge.
"What I would tell you is Chris Christie continued to strongly state his position that he had no knowledge of those actions taken," Pence said. "And frankly, as he said late in the week, that what the convictions proved is that he was right to immediately fire those people for the actions that they'd taken."
Pence added there were no plans to make any personnel changes, although his timeline extended only to Election Day — and if Trump wins on Tuesday, the transition team will really kick into gear post-election.
"There's no changes in personnel here in the waning days in the campaign," Pence said. "We're 100 percent focused in bringing home a great victory for the American people."
DHS names 11 new Preclearance candidates Back
By Lauren Gardner | 11/04/2016 03:06 PM EDT
The Department of Homeland Security today named 11 airports, predominantly in Latin America and Western Europe, as the latest candidates for potential Preclearance operations.
The possible expansion, which is still subject to negotiations between the U.S. and the host countries, would mark Customs and Border Patrol's first foray into South America under the program. The airports are located in nine countries, from Argentina and Colombia to Iceland and the United Kingdom. Kansai International Airport in Osaka, Japan, was also included in the group.
More than 10 million people travel to the United States from the 11 airports annually, DHS said.
U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow praised the announcement as both a diplomatic and an economic boon.
"Giving travelers an innovative, convenient and efficient entry process with Preclearance sends the message that they are welcome here — and those who feel welcomed are more likely to visit again," he said in a statement.
The airports announced today follow 10 locations DHS identified for Preclearance expansion in May 2015. The U.S. and Sweden signed off today on an agreement to bring Preclearance operations to the Stockholm Arlanda Airport, which was included in the first round.
DOT IG: FTA needs to improve policies for transit system oversight Back
By Brianna Gurciullo | 11/04/2016 02:53 PM EDT
FTA lacks benchmarks for finalizing its policies for acquiring and giving up safety oversight of rail transit systems, which has caused confusion about when and how FTA would exercise its authority, according to a new DOT inspector general report.
The IG also found that FTA has struggled to obtain and keep staffing and resources for its Office of Transit Safety and Oversight. Agency officials told the IG that there is a limited number of people with "transit safety talent," hiring is competitive, the jobs are temporary by nature and there have been "administrative issues."
In addition, the agency has failed to create a proactive oversight program based on data and risk — partly because FTA officials aren't sure what kind of data they need and only have one analyst — and hasn't finished safety audits on time. And while FTA has safety criteria, its standards are voluntary and not enforceable. Plus, its criteria doesn't include issues like red-light overruns, hours of service and medical health.
The report looks specifically at FTA's oversight of WMATA. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx instructed FTA to take on safety oversight of Metro last year. DOT gave D.C., Maryland and Virginia a deadline of February 2017 to create a new safety oversight body or else some federal funding could be withheld.
FTA hasn't finalized its policies and procedures for overseeing WMATA, which "has caused significant frustration and some confusion" about responsibilities, possibly leading to duplication and delays, according to the report.
Wall Street Journal: Logistics Hiring Surged by 7,500 Jobs in October
Logistics companies returned to hiring last month after a dip in September, adding thousands of jobs in trucking, warehousing and air transportation.
Transportation and warehousing payrolls rose by a total of 7,500 jobs in October, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Friday, with trucking fleets adding 3,000 jobs. Despite tepid U.S. domestic shipping demand for much of the year, the industry was up nearly 8,000 jobs from the same month a year ago.
The department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics also restated September jobs numbers, reporting the trucking industry added 1,800 jobs that month after saying in the preliminary report that trucking payrolls had declined by 3,600 jobs.
Air transportation companies added 2,500 jobs in September, bringing total job gains in the segment to 13,400 over the past year. And rail transportation gained of 400 jobs after deep cutbacks in recent months that have cut payrolls by 19,800 jobs over the last 12 months because of a steep decline in coal and energy shipments.
The growth in transportation hires come even as industries that traditionally feed goods into distribution channels aren't seeing strong growth. Manufacturers, a significant source of demand for trucking firms, cut 9,000 jobs in October, in the third consecutive month of declines. There were 53,000 fewer manufacturing jobs in October than a year earlier, as U.S. factories have struggled with a strong dollar and weak growth abroad. Goods-producing jobs overall were flat last month.
“This morning revealed a disappointing jobs number for factory workers,” said Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing. He called for more spending on infrastructure and vocational training, “particularly since global trade may be slowing over the long run.”
Still, the construction industry added 11,000 jobs. Higher crude prices may also be providing a boost—Paul Svindland, president of Farren International, a Texas-based trucker that serves the oil industry, said in a recent interview that business has picked up as companies start putting oil rigs back into service. Oil prices have fallen in the past week to below $50 a barrel, but prices remain far ahead of the first quarter.
Meanwhile, the growing popularity of online shopping is fueling logistics hiring. Warehousing and storage companies added 3,300 jobs in October, for a total of 43,600 new jobs in the sector over the past year. Courier and messenger companies added 1,500 jobs from September to October.
The shift to e-commerce was also evident in retail hiring numbers. Head counts reduced by 10,900 in electronics and appliance stores, and by 15,600 in clothing and accessories stores—merchandise categories that are among the most popular for online purchases. Payrolls for both types of stores are down from a year earlier. Stores selling furniture and home furnishings, a smaller but fast-growing segment of e-commerce, slashed 2,800 jobs.
Overall, U.S. employers added 161,000 jobs in October, slower than the average pace of 181,000 new jobs a month in 2016.