Is the Obama Administration Poised to Push Transit?

While President Barack Obama promoted wind power and cap-and-trade legislation, VP Joe Biden spent Earth Day talking up transit. Public radio’s "The Takeaway" reports that Biden held a presser at a bus maintenance facility in Landover, Maryland, to tout a $300 million investment in hybrid buses and other municipal vehicles as part of the federal stimulus package. Said Biden:

This program, the Clean Cities program, is in its 15th year. Already it’s saved two billion gallons of petroleum used since its inception. And now, it’s time to ramp it up. Ramp it up in a big way. We know it works.

As reporter Andrea Bernstein points out, this is not breaking news. What’s interesting, she says, is the seemingly intensifying focus of the White House on transit as the fight over the next round of federal transportation spending approaches.

I would say that up to now there has been mostly disappointment among people who care about mass transit in the Obama administration. People felt that the recovery act only had $8 billion dollars, now that’s $8 billion but it’s $8 billion out of $800 billion, so that’s 1% and that’s all the money for transit, and they were saying that isn’t enough money, it doesn’t show a real commitment, you can’t really change things with that.

So when they begin to see the administration talking about high speed rail, when they begin to see the administration talking about mass transit going as Joe Biden did yesterday to a transit station for his Earth Day thing, they’re thinking ok, so maybe this administration is going to put serious muscle behind this. As a reauthorization fight comes up, speaking to a lobbyist from NRDC who has expressed great disappointment up to now, and he said you know, I think things may be beginning to turn.

So what do you think? Are you seeing evidence of an emerging, pro-transit agenda from DC these days? Could Biden’s enthusiasm over buses and Ray LaHood’s cyclist pledge be part and parcel of a preemptive push to shake up the asphalt-loaded federal funding formula — or is the admin simply playing to an attention-starved constituency?

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