America Airlines – Biden launches next round of travel restrictions
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AT A FAST CLIP: President Joe Biden will kick off his first full week in office by issuing another round of travel safety rules aimed at reducing the spread of Covid, as the U.S. surpassed 25 million confirmed cases and health experts worry about the spread of new coronavirus variants from other countries. Biden is expected to issue a new order today banning most non-U.S. citizens who have recently traveled to South Africa from entering the country. The order will go into effect on Saturday, according to plans first reported by Reuters. Biden will also reinstate restrictions on non-U.S. travelers from Brazil, the United Kingdom and nearly 30 other European countries.
THERE’S MORE: A White House official said the administration also doesn’t plan to allow exemptions to last week’s executive order requiring international air travelers to show proof of a negative Covid test for travelers from countries with limited testing-capacity, as some airlines had requested. That comes after airlines and travel groups had complained about other aspects of that order, and amid general confusion about how federal agencies might enforce Biden’s mask mandate.
UNANSWERED QUESTIONS: The Eno Center’s Jeff Davis said the administration’s decision to include intrastate transportation, which would include most mass transit, in the order was “a bit of a surprise” because that “is not an area where the federal government generally has regulatory power.” WIth the exception of the D.C.-area metro system, the federal government cannot mandate safety rules for public transit, but it can make future funding contingent on their adoption, Davis said, adding that the process could be “time-consuming.”
Headed for the courts?: Attorneys who have challenged mask mandates said that despite the careful framing of the order, its mask requirement for public transportation could be vulnerable to a legal challenge, POLITICO’s Natasha Korecki reported.
QUARREL-TINE: There are also concerns about the quarantine requirement for international travelers. The order requires travelers to abide by a CDC recommendation to quarantine for seven days following international trips. The U.S. Travel Association said in a statement Friday that mandatory quarantines in addition to testing were unnecessary and would be “extremely difficult to enforce.” Airlines for America also said that it hoped the Biden administration would recognize that “testing can be used to safely resume travel” and that quarantines were ineffective in addition to being hard to enforce.
HAPPY MONDAY: You’re reading Morning Transportation, your guide to what Washington’s doing on planes, trains, cars and everything that moves. We’re diving into covering the Biden administration, and MT would love to hear your tips, pitches and feedback about the next four years. Get in touch at [email protected] or @samjmintz.
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A NEW ERA FOR TRANSIT: Even if they survive the economic devastation of the pandemic, America’s transit systems will likely continue to be threatened by the coronavirus’ lingering effects on how people live and work. As our Tanya Snyder reported, the virus has accelerated trends that had been contributing to a yearslong decline in transit ridership. As many of you can attest as you read this from home, the pandemic has led to newfound enthusiasm for letting employees work remotely. It has also hastened the migration of jobs and people away from cities and to suburbs and small towns. That could spell trouble for agencies that have relied on workers for steady ridership.
A couple of key takeaways: The ongoing “shock to the system” could eliminate two of the main justifications for transit’s existence — rush-hour congestion and expensive downtown parking. The workforce might also look different and travel differently once this is over. People might not work full weeks in the office anymore, which could mean the end of the “traditional five-day-a-week rider”and the start of needing multiple people to fill that seat five days, according to Jim Derwinski, CEO of Chicago’s Metra system and chair of the Commuter Rail Coalition.
A SEA CHANGE: The dean of the (imaginary) congressional gas tax caucus is renouncing his role as chair. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who for years has been one of the most vocal lawmakers advocating for an increase in the federal gas tax as a short-term fix for the country’s infrastructure woes, says it’s time to move on. In an interview with Sam, he said: “There is a grand bargain that the Biden administration can be involved with. Just cut out the initial step of a short-term increase. We don’t need it.” He said it’s time for the tax to be abolished, and for the Biden administration to kick-start the use of a vehicle-miles-traveled fee.
The problem with VMT, of course, is that Congress has been talking about it ad nauseum for years but has refused to take the plunge and actually reckon with the tech, legal and policy issues it raises. There have been pilots in more than a dozen states, and the most realistic first step at a federal level could be to expand to a national pilot.
Blumenauer’s new stance came a day after DOT‘s secretary-designate, Pete Buttigieg, said he wouldn’t support a gas tax increase. So even though it’s the immediate fix of choice to the Highway Trust Fund for many infrastructure boosters, it looks very much like 18.3 cents is here to stay.
THE NEXT ROUND: Fellow Oregonian and House Transportation Chair Peter DeFazio told POLITICO on Friday that transportation leaders in both chambers were coming up with proposals for Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief fund that could include requesting additional funds for modes whose needs weren’t met in the last stimulus package. Transit, airports and buses are three sectors that “asked for substantially more than they got,” he said. Biden has proposed $20 billion for transit but has not specified dollar amounts for other modes.
BRIDGING THE DIVIDE?: During an appearance on ABC’s “The View” on Friday, Buttigieg said the Biden administration might combat political extremism by helping to build “a better life for Americans” through “trustworthy” systems.“That’s what I’m going to be focused on, if I’m confirmed, making sure that we actually deliver better roads and airports and ports, bridges and trains — the kinds of things that build up confidence in America as a whole,” he said.
Green future: Buttigieg also said he saw a “huge” opportunity to tackle climate change as DOT secretary by pushing for goals like getting more electric vehicles on the roads, installing additional EV charging stations across the country, and encouraging the use of electric passenger trains. “And it’s one of the top things the president’s asked us all to make sure that we’re working on,” he said.
PETE AND CONGESTION PRICING: New York is betting on Biden’s DOT to get its congestion pricing project rolling again. After the Trump administration declined to even tell New York City officials whether the project would need a full or truncated environmental review, the City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, wrote to soon-to-be Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg last week to ask him for speedy consideration. “With the positive environmental impacts that we can expect from reductions in traffic and the increased use of public transit due to congestion pricing, I believe an expedited environmental review is appropriate,” his letter says.
UPDATE: The National Air Carrier Association also said it wants to work with Buttigieg to improve access to low airfares following the Trump administration’s approval of what the group called an “anti-competitive” alliance between American Airlines and JetBlue. NACA said DOT “squandered an opportunity to enhance competition at slot-constrained airports JFK and DCA by including highly inadequate divestiture requirements” in the deal, and noted that DOT did not specify that divested slots should go to low-fare carriers to enhance competition. As we previously reported, the American-JetBlue alliance has been panned by rival carriers, antitrust experts and members of Congress who have warned that it could lead to higher fares.
Chellie Cameron, CEO of Philadelphia International Airport, has been named chair of the U.S. Policy Council for Airports Council International – North America. Cameron will be responsible for helping represent the airport industry on Capitol Hill and with the Biden administration — and she’s a Notre Dame alum, which could help her make a quick connection to Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind.
Danny Yagan has been named associate director for economic policy at the Office of Management and Budget after advising Buttigieg during his presidential run, POLITICO’s Caitlin Emma reports.
— “Sanders says Democrats will use reconciliation ‘as soon as we possibly can‘ to pass Covid-19 relief package.” Fintech Zoom.
— “United Airlines CEO wants to make Covid vaccines mandatory for employees — and encourages other companies to do the same.” CNBC.
— “An FAA employee and QAnon follower was on the FBI’s radar. Then he stormed the Capitol.” HuffPost.
— “In rural Montana, a hope that Biden will reopen the rails.” The New York Times.
— “Israel bans international flights to curb coronavirus spread.” Reuters.
— “The art and science of boarding an airplane in a pandemic.” Wired.
— “TSA agent convicted of tricking woman into showing him her breasts at LAX.” The Associated Press.