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Infrastructure in the News 7.21.16


Yahoo Tech: Federal guidelines for autonomous vehicles due this summer

There are two key elements required for a driverless car to operate. One is a robust software and hardware package that can safely steer a car in any traffic conditions and deliver the passengers to the destination without any input from the driver.

Politico: Breaking down the GOP platform's transportation ideas

The MT team broke down the Republican Party platform’s transportation proposals for you and found a plan full of largely failed policy ideas that are likely to go nowhere.

Progressive Railroading: APTA opposed to GOP's call to end federal funding of public transportation

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is strongly opposed to theRepublican Party platform that calls for phasing out federal funding of public transportation, the association announced yesterday.

Forbes: Musk's Master Plan Envisions Tesla As Energy Firm, Urban Transit Savior

Tesla Motors  has defied its critics for a decade. Now CEO Elon Musk sees an even more ambitious future for the electric-car maker as a supplier of power from solar roofs, builder of heavy-duty trucks and maker of urban transit vehicles. He also wants to give Tesla owners the opportunity to make money by placing their vehicles into its own ride-share service.

The New York Times: Do-It-Yourself Transit Planning, by App

Mohamed Alyajouri, who lives in Beaverton, Ore., and develops health programs for a nonprofit, was fed up with the track work on MAX Light Rail, which runs into downtown Portland. Trains were rerouted, forcing riders to disembark and walk several blocks or ride a shuttle bus to get back on a train.

The New York Times (Reuters): Top U.S. Vehicle Safety Regulator Stands by Self-Driving Cars

The top U.S. auto safety regulator said the government will not abandon efforts to speed the development of self-driving cars, despite a fatal accident involving a Tesla Model S operating on an autopilot system.

The New York Times (AP): United, TSA to Offer Automated Security Checkpoints

In a bid to reduce long airport security lines, United Airlines said Wednesday it will work with federal officials to install automated screening checkpoints this fall at its hub in Newark, New Jersey, and later this year in Chicago and Los Angeles.

The Washington Post: Drivers prefer tolls to taxes. That’s too bad.

Many drivers gripe about the sorry condition of roads and bridges in the United States. They sometimes gripe even louder, knowing that they will likely have to dig into their pockets deeper to pay to fix them. But if they had to pick from several alternative ways to raise money for roads, a new study suggest drivers would prefer tolls instead of taxes.

STATE NEWS Gwinnett buys buses to expand transit system

Gwinnett County will expand its local bus fleet and improve its Sugarloaf Mills transit center under measures approved by the Board of Commissioners Tuesday.

Philly Mag: Red Homeowners, Blue Renters: The Big Sort Comes Home to Philly

So you own a lovely restored farmhouse in bucolic Buckingham, a rancher in Richboro or a cabin in Concordville? You’re probably a Republican, though if you live in Eddystone or Crum Lynne, you may be a Republican renter.

The New York Times: The Capital of Car Culture, Los Angeles Warms to Mass Transit

When the extension of the Expo rail line opened here in May, it was almost as if the city had stepped into another century. Suddenly, it was possible to go from downtown to the Santa Monica beach by train, escaping a drive that could take two hours. The inaugural runs were packed with people, carrying beach chairs and recording the 15-mile, 45-minute long ride with cellphones.

Star Tribune: Metro transit board scrambles in wake of Dakota County pullout

Dakota County’s plans to leave a metro-area transit funding board appear to have put the $150.7 million Orange Line bus-rapid-transit (BRT) project in peril.                                                        

Politico Morning Transportation

By Lauren Gardner and Brianna Gurciullo | 07/21/2016 05:44 AM EDT

With help from Jennifer Scholtes, Tim Starks and Martin Matishak

SELF-DRIVING 'ELEPHANT': Federal regulators aren't letting recent controversy around Tesla's semi-autonomous vehicle technology deter them from embracing self-driving cars as part of the future of safety on the nation's roads. NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind acknowledged "the elephant in the room" during a speech Wednesday at the Automated Vehicle Symposium in San Francisco by vowing that "no one incident" would make DOT turn away from the potential those technologies hold for lowering the fatality rate among U.S. drivers.

Beta vs. wait-a-minute: Rosekind declined to opine on whether the Teslas of the world should hit the brakes on introducing semi-autonomous features to the driving public. "The federal government is not here to pick the winners and losers of this technology. We are neutral on the question of incremental technological development versus skipping to full automation," he said in prepared remarks. "Our mission is not to design the future, but instead lay the framework, a framework that will speed the development and deployment of technologies with significant lifesaving potential."

But Secretary Anthony Foxx hinted earlier this week that his department is weighing whether to institute "pre-market-approval steps" to ensure technologies have been thoroughly "stress-tested" before drivers try them out, The Wall Street Journal reported.

If not now, when?: Rosekind, a former NTSB member, nodded to one of the most significant - and perhaps most complicated - questions NHTSA's wrestled with: When will companies and regulators know when an autonomous technology is safe enough for consumers?

"Of course we have to do everything we can to make sure new technology does not introduce new safety risks, but we also can't stand idly by while we wait for the perfect. In roadway safety, we are not in a good place," he said, citing the 35,200 roadway deaths in 2015. He added: "This is a bad situation, and we should be desperate for new tools that will help us save lives. If we wait for perfect, we'll be waiting for a very, very long time."

Winter is coming: So where is that long-awaited automated vehicle guidance? Rosekind said it "is being reviewed, tweaked and perfected as we speak." Foxx has promised the document sometime this summer.

NO LUV IN CLE: A computer glitch grounded Southwest Airlines flights across the country Wednesday - a snafu that's affecting people trying to get into and out of Cleveland as the Republican National Convention begins to wind down. In a statement on its Facebook page, the airline said it had cut the number of planes departing after 10 p.m. Wednesday "in an effort to fully restore our system in preparation" for operation today.

The technical issues snarled itineraries into and out of Cleveland Hopkins International and the Akron-Canton airports, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported . Southwest said on social media that it would provide "flexible rebooking" options for customers once systems are functioning normally.

IT'S THURSDAY: Good morning and thanks for tuning in to POLITICO's Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports. We at MT are playing around with the beta version of WMATA's new website, the first redesign in eight years that's set to officially launch this summer.

Reach out: or @Gardner_LM, or@JAScholtes and or @brigurciullo.

"I tried to drive all through the night. The heat stroke ridden weather, the barren empty sights. No oasis here to see. The sand is singing deathless words to me."

TESLA 'MASTER PLAN' REVEALED: The sequel to Elon Musk's 2006 master plan for Tesla includes bigger electric vehicles and a shared fleet of cars, he said in a blog post Wednesday evening. Musk outlined plans for electric models of a pickup truck, a compact SUV and a type of bus, as well as an app that would allow a Tesla owner to let his or her self-driving robot car shuttle others around "and have it generate income for you while you're at work or on vacation." But The Wall Street Journal wrote that the strategy involves "much heavier products requiring significant capital and new staffing at a time when the company is losing money."

AUTO-ISAC COMPILES ADVICE FROM CYBER EXPERTS: The automobile industry's information sharing and analysis center released its cybersecurity recommendations, after compiling the efforts of 50 automotive cybersecurity experts. Its "best practices" include advice on how to incorporate security into the design of vehicles and coordinate with others during attack response.

"Automakers are committed to being proactive and will not wait for cyber threats to materialize into safety risks," said Auto-ISAC Chairman Tom Stricker of Toyota. "The best practices initiative represents this commitment to proactive collaboration that our industry made when we stood up the Auto-ISAC last year." The announcement comes in advance of the Billington Automotive Cybersecurity Summit on Friday.

IS 'JACKWARE' THE NEXT BIG THING? As car companies race toward the ubiquity of autonomous vehicles, they should beware of a new kind of threat: jackware. The theoretical form of ransomware could lock up an entire car or a vital piece of equipment until a fee is paid, said Stephen Cobb, a senior security researcher at ESET, in a recent blog post. Cobb explains that jackware could take control of a car via several common security gaps in connected vehicles. "Unfortunately, based on past form, I don't have great faith in the world's ability to stop jackware being developed and deployed," Cobb said, citing last year's recall of 1.4 million Fiat Chrysler cars over digital security concerns.

FOXX ANNOUNCEMENT: Foxx announced a tentative decision Wednesday to permit four U.S. airlines to offer new daytime service to Tokyo's Haneda Airport, beginning as early as this fall. The U.S. and Japan renegotiated their bilateral Open Skies agreement earlier this year to shift four existing nighttime slot pairs to daylight hours and add one new flight each at daytime and nighttime hours for U.S. commercial carriers.

Sit back and wave through the daylight: Foxx said the move addresses a "commercially difficult" situation for American airliners at the downtown-area airport, where previously all U.S. service was limited to nighttime takeoffs and landings. Dissenters have until Aug. 1 to file objections to the proposed slots.

'BIG THREE' ALL-IN ON BUYING TSA EQUIPMENT: Building on TSA's work to automate screening lanes at the nation's largest airports, the ink is now drying on a deal to have United Airlines foot the bill for new equipment, just like the airline's major-carrier counterparts. This completes the "big three" trifecta for TSA, which has already scored similar agreements with American and Delta.

Coming to EWR, ORD and LAX: As our Jennifer Scholtes reported for Pros, "United's contribution is expected to create 17 automated checkpoint lanes at Newark Liberty International Airport this fall and more at Chicago O'Hare and Los Angeles international airports later this year. TSA aims to install the equipment at up to 60 lanes by year's end and estimates that the new technology speeds passenger flow through checkpoints by about 30 percent. ... TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger said this month that 'a couple of other airlines' are interested in similar arrangements. But he wouldn't say which."

AUTOMAKERS USING TAKATA AIRBAGS: Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Daimler Vans told Sen. Bill Nelson that they're selling new cars with Takata airbags. NHTSA has called for automakers to recall the airbags by the close of 2018, but it's legal to sell new cars that have them - for now. The airbags, which can rupture after being exposed to heat and humidity over a long period of time, are connected to 10 deaths and over 100 injuries. The Senate Commerce Committee ranking member has questioned 17 automakers about whether they still install the airbags. Seven - including Fiat Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Volkswagen - have said they've put the non-desiccated ammonium-nitrate inflators in new cars.

THANKS, BILL: NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart wrote a letter to Rep. Bill Shuster thanking the House Transportation Committee chairman for including in the FAA extension provisions on the pilot records database, pilot training requirements and crash resistance for helicopter fuel systems.

RUBIO STILL FIGHTING AMBASSADOR IN CUBA: Sen. Marco Rubio isn't backing down from his stance against a U.S. ambassador in Cuba, POLITICO's Nahal Toosi reports. But fellow Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona says a confirmation is more likely under a new administration. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have shown support for the new U.S.-Cuba relationship.

Travel plans already taking off: "Once the new president nominates an ambassador, you can't just say we're going to sit on that and hold it," Flake told Nahal. "There are going to be too many Americans traveling to Cuba and doing legal business in Cuba to deny them the opportunity to have a full-fledged diplomatic presence there." President Barack Obama has already lifted some trade and travel restrictions through executive power. Eight airlines have tentatively won routes from 10 American cities to Havana, and a growing number of lawmakers support eliminating the travel ban completely.

SPEAKING OF CUBA: FedEx plans to have scheduled all-cargo flights from Miami to Matanzas, Cuba, starting in January, Air Cargo World and Cuba Journal reported. The DOT just signed off on FedEx's application, the only one of its kind so far. FedEx initially applied for permission to serve Havana but changed its petition last month. And instead of using a Boeing 757 as it originally suggested, the company will use a Cessna 208. (h/t Madeleine Russak at Engage Cuba)

VIDEO DU JOUR: "Elderly People Try Self-Driving Cars For The First Time." BuzzFeed.

PICS DU JOUR: Architectural Digest has a photo gallery of Union Station's four-year restoration: Construction began after the 2011 earthquake, and the magazine has some behind-the-scenes shots of crews working on the cracked ceiling from 90 feet above the ground as well as photos of the completed space.

AND MANY MORE: MT wishes a belated happy birthday to the first Transportation secretary, Alan Boyd! (h/t @SecretaryFoxx, via Twitter)


- Volkswagen warns of deeper hit to profit by emissions scandal. The New York Times.

- New lawsuit challenges the use of Dulles Toll Road dollars to pay for the Silver Line. The Washington Post.

- This teenage entrepreneur raised $2.8 million for his drone startup in-between high school classes. Fortune.

- Metro officer pulled gun in Maryland road rage incident. NBC Washington.

- Nishikawa agrees to plead guilty, pay $130 million fine for price-fixing: U.S. Reuters.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 70 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 435 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 109 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,535 days.


Nothing on our radar for today.

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Stories from POLITICO Pro

All three U.S. legacy carriers pony up for automated TSA lines Back

By Jennifer Scholtes | 07/20/2016 04:08 PM EDT

The full force of the "the big three" is now in on TSA partnerships to automate much of the checkpoint screening process at the nation's largest airports.

TSA announced this afternoon that United Airlines has agreed to foot the bill for automation technology, following on similar agreements with Delta Air Lines and American Airlines.

United's contribution is expected to create 17 automated checkpoint lanes at Newark Liberty International Airport this fall and more at Chicago O'Hare and Los Angeles international airports later this year.

TSA aims to install the equipment at up to 60 lanes by year's end and estimates that the new technology speeds passenger flow through checkpoints by about 30 percent.

United CEO Greg Hart said the investment demonstrates the airline's "commitment to use the latest technology to ensure our customers have a reliable and enjoyable experience every step of their journey."

The airlines' purchases include equipment that uses radio frequency identification to ensure baggage bins are accounted for. Additionally, it photographs the outside of carry-on luggage to link x-ray images to each bag's contents and diverts items that need further screening so the bins behind them aren't held up. Bigger x-ray bins, as well as equipment that returns those containers to the start of screening lines, is also being used at automated checkpoints.

TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger said this month that "a couple of other airlines" are interested in similar arrangements. But he wouldn't say which.


Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Daimler Vans admit selling new cars with Takata airbags subject to recall Back

By Brianna Gurciullo | 07/20/2016 03:56 PM EDT

Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Daimler Vans acknowledged that they've sold new cars with Takata airbags, according to information released by Sen. Bill Nelson today.

Selling new cars with airbags subject to recall is legal, but NHTSA has called for automakers to recall them by the close of 2018.

The three automakers' acknowledgment came in response to letters from Nelson (D-Fla.). Nelson has questioned 17 automakers about whether they still install the airbags; seven, including Fiat Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Volkswagen, have said they installed non-desiccated ammonium-nitrate inflators in new cars.

BMW told Nelson that it equipped some 2015 model year cars with the airbags, "but did not address whether any of these vehicles are currently offered for sale on dealer lots," according to Nelson's report. Tesla has not yet answered Nelson's query.

The airbags, which can rupture after being exposed to heat and humidity over a long period of time, are connected to 10 deaths and over 100 injuries so far, according to Nelson.

Fiat Chrysler, Toyota and Ferrari have promised to tell consumers about the recall. Volkswagen told Nelson that "it is making preparations to disclose this information to consumers," according to the report. Mitsubishi "is considering methods to notify potential buyers." Daimler Vans and Mercedes-Benz are "evaluating how to advise their dealers about informing consumers."


Rubio vows to keep up fight against U.S. ambassador in Cuba Back

By Nahal Toosi | 07/20/2016 01:03 PM EDT

A year to the day that the Obama administration restored diplomatic ties with Cuba, the United States still doesn't have an ambassador officially representing it on the communist-led island.

And if Marco Rubio has his way, that's not going to change anytime soon.

The Florida Republican, who decided to run again for the Senate after his presidential bid failed, told POLITICO that he won't drop his objections to any theoretical ambassador nominee. And he scoffed at the notion that having an ambassador in Cuba may help the U.S. argue its case to the government there.

"A U.S. ambassador is not going to influence the Cuban government, which is a dictatorial, closed regime," Rubio said in a phone interview earlier this week from Florida, where he is leading in the polls after reversing his decision to return to private life after his failed presidential bid.

A single senator can severely slow down the confirmation process for an ambassador. Rubio, along with Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), all are harsh enough critics of the U.S. opening to Cuba that President Barack Obama has not even bothered to nominate anyone for the envoy's job.

All three senators are of Cuban descent. They argue that the Cuban government, led by President Raul Castro, brother of now-ailing revolutionary figure Fidel, will merely use its new relationship with Washington to cement its harsh rule.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment for this story; Obama, however, has noted in the past that the U.S. has a better chance of bringing about change in Cuba through engagement instead of isolation.

The U.S. and Cuba officially restored ties on July 20, 2015, after more than five decades of estrangement. In the year since, the U.S. Embassy in Havana has been overseen by Jeffrey DeLaurentis, a highly regarded American diplomat with extensive experience in Cuba who holds the title "charge d'affaires."

Analysts say DeLaurentis can do just about anything as a "charge" that an ambassador could do. But as the relationship between the two countries evolves and expands, not having an ambassador could be a symbolic and ultimately diplomatic hindrance.

Sen. Jeff Flake , an Arizona Republican who has joined forces with the Obama administration to champion engaging Cuba, says the nomination of an ambassador may have to wait until the next president takes office. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has signaled support for the new Cuba policy, and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton also backs the restored ties.

"Once the new president nominates an ambassador you can't just say we're going to sit on that and hold it," Flake said in a reference to the recalcitrant senators, during a phone interview earlier this week. "There are going to be too many Americans traveling to Cuba and doing legal business in Cuba to deny them the opportunity to have a full-fledged diplomatic presence there."

Over the past year, the U.S. and Cuba have held discussions about cooperating on a number of fronts, including the environment and counter-narcotics. Obama, through his executive authority, has lifted a number of trade and travel restrictions on Cuba; airlines are competing for slots to offer direct flights to Havana. There's also growing support in Congress for getting rid of the hole-filled travel ban to Cuba altogether.

However, key differences remain between the countries, especially on Cuba's human rights record and the presence of American fugitives on its soil. And despite a growing Republican embrace of the new relationship with Cuba, it's not yet clear when the U.S. Congress will take the ultimate step of dismantling the U.S. embargo on the island.

The number of Cubans seeking to reach the United States has also risen over the past year, partly because many Cubans worry that the U.S. will repeal a law that gives them a special fast track to legal American residency.

That being said, Cubans largely have expressed pleasure with the restoration of diplomatic ties.

That sentiment is not lost on Rubio, despite his insistence that the Cuban government, not the people it governs, will reap most of the benefits of the new deal with America.

Ordinary Cubans have "been living in this trap for close to 60 years, and they're hoping some new dynamic will change things," Rubio said. "I understand it. I do."


DOT picks Havana flights Back

By Kathryn A. Wolfe | 07/07/2016 10:00 AM EDT

The DOT has selected airlines with service from 10 U.S. cities to serve Havana, with eight carriers winning routes out of the dozen that had applied.

Service is set to begin as soon as fall.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said DOT "chose airlines that could offer and maintain the best ongoing service," and that it will " ensure service to areas of substantial Cuban-American population as well as to important aviation hub cities." As well, Foxx said the decision was made to "offer the public a wide array of travel choices in the type of airlines such as network, low-cost carriers and ultra low-cost carriers."

Flights will be allowed between Atlanta, Charlotte, Ft. Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York City, Orlando and Tampa. Airlines winning routes include Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and Spirit Airlines.

Last month, DOT awarded routes to other cities in Cuba besides Havana.

The decision is tentative; objections may be filed by July 22, with answers due by July 29. A final decision is expected later this summer, at which time airlines will be allowed to begin selling tickets.