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Vol. 11, No. 4 - July/August 2000

Rail Initiatives Continue to Stir Controversy - Commentary
Several ballot referenda during the past year have underscored the unpredictable nature of public attitudes toward rail transit. In Denver and Phoenix, for example, voters approved rail projects by solid margins of 65 to 35 percent. On the other hand, residents of Miami FL, Kansas City, Norfolk VA, Columbus OH, and San Antonio TX rejected rail proposals by equally solid margins. Why would cities faced with roughly comparable mobility challenges, come to such divergent conclusions? As other communities are preparing to take their own rail proposals to the voters, both supporters and opponents of these projects are closely studying recent referenda for hints of a winning strategy.

A Requiem for Electric Cars
In a closely watched decision, California's regulators will decide in the coming months whether to back away from their requirement that by 2003, ten percent of all cars and light trucks sold in the state be "zero-emission" vehicles. That would translate into about 22,000 battery-powered electric vehicles each year. The mandate, which has been postponed and watered down since it was issued in 1990, is expected to be a highly contentious regulatory issue. The auto industry argues that few consumers want battery-powered cars, while environmentalists contend that auto makers aren't marketing the vehicles aggressively enough. Only 3,300 battery-powered electric cars have been sold in the U.S. between 1996 and 1999. A story by Jonathan Welsh, excerpted from The Wall Street Journal, tells why consumers continue to shun battery-driven electric cars and why the outlook for them remains so cloudy.

The State of Innovation in Surface Transportation
Every year, MIT's Cooperative Mobility Program, whose sponsors include the world's leading automobile manufacturers, brings together representatives of the sponsoring companies for an intensive round of briefings and discussions on key transportation issues under study by the program's research team. As has been the custom, the latest meeting, on June 6-7, began with a presentation of new findings from MIT's International Mobility Observatory. The Observatory, launched in the Spring of 1996 as part of the Cooperative Mobility Program, monitors and documents worldwide trends in transportation innovation as a service to the program's sponsors and research team. The presentation, delivered by your editor who serves as the Observatory's manager, is presented below in abbreviated form.

A Transportation Agenda for the 21st Century
Franchising Urban Freeways: Getting There From Here
Continuing our series "A Transportation Agenda for the 21st Century," we present below a commentary by Robert Poole, President of the Reason Foundation, and a well- known exponent, interpreter and popularizer of free market approaches in transportation. In an earlier brief ("Toward An Entrepreneurial, Market-Driven System," Jan/Feb 2000), Poole presented a case for replacing today's system of public roads with a market-oriented, consumer-responsive system of private highway franchises. In the present Brief, he discusses ways of getting there from here.

The Rise and Decline of the "Smart Growth" Crusade
A year ago, the Sierra Club mounted a major anti-sprawl campaign in the hope of creating a grassroots movement that would catch the attention of politicians and lead to stricter growth controls. Vice President Gore picked up on the theme and made "smart growth" part of his early campaign rhetoric, hoping to capitalize on suburbanites' growing frustration with mounting traffic congestion and long commutes. But one year later, the crusade for smart growth appears to have lost steam. Presidential candidate Al Gore has toned down his anti-growth rhetoric, having no doubt realized that there is no political capital to be gained in demonizing the suburbs where most of his potential electorate lives. Opinion surveys find no sign of a grassroots sentiment in support of growth controls. On the contrary, people seem to find the sprawling suburbs eminently livable despite lengthy commutes. Nor do demographic data show any changes in metropolitan development patterns. Indeed, a new study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development shows that the booming New Economy is fueling dispersal to the outer edges of metropolitan areas as never before. Three case studies illustrate the widening gap between the rhetoric of smart growth crusaders and the realities of metropolitan growth.

EPA's Regulatory Powers Challenged in the Supreme Court
By agreeing to review an appeals court ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency exceeded its authority when it issued tough new standards for ozone and particulates, the Supreme Court has set the stage for a sweeping examination of EPA's powers under the Clean Air Act. Since the law was passed in 1970, the high court has declined at least four times to undertake such a far reaching review. The case goes to the heart of the government's power to regulate air quality, and is already billed as one of the most important environmental and administrative law cases in years.

News Analysis & Commentary

  • Fiscal Year 2001 Transportation Appropriations
  • Conditions and Performance of the Nation's Transportation Facilities


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