Evidence-Based Public Policy Takes Back Seat in Transportation Policy

In what can only be considered a bizarre turn in a presidential administration committed to so-called “evidence based” public policy, the U.S. Department of Transportation has announced it will approve public transit investments based on political popularity and reduce the importance of cost-effectiveness and performance in its approval criteria.

Sound crazy? Here is a excerpt from the official, formal remarks U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood delivered at the keynote luncheon address at the 89th annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, perhaps the world’s largest conference of transportation professionals:

“We’re going to free our flagship transit capital program from long-standing requirements that have allowed us only to green-light projects that meet very narrow cost and performance criteria.

“Instead, as we evaluate major transit projects going forward, we’ll consider ALL the factors that help communities reduce their carbon footprint, spur economic activity, and relieve congestion.

“To put it simply: We WILL take livability into account.

“This new approach will help us do a MUCH better job aligning our priorities and values with our investments in transit projects that truly strengthen communities.

“We’ll finally be able to make the case for investing in popular streetcar projects and other transit systems that people want — and that our old ways of doing business didn’t value enough.”

The emphasis is in the original remarks.

Did his real remarks reflect the formal remarks? Yes. I was there.