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Safe and Sustainable Rail

Leeds Bradford abandons its expansion plans: where does that leave us?

By staff - Greener Jobs Alliance, March 11, 2022

Tahir Latif is Secretary of the Greener Jobs Alliance. The opinions expressed here are his own, and not necessarily those of all GJA members. In the spirit of this newly created blog space, we invite alternative views and responses, which can be sent to gjacoms@gmail.com .

The news that Leeds Bradford airport has opted to abandon its expansion plans is hugely welcomed by climate activists everywhere and a testament to the extraordinary efforts of the grassroots organisation, GALBA. Backed by the local trades council, GALBA has been meticulous in rooting its opposition to the expansion in the needs of the community and workforce.

Instead of expansion, LBA is choosing to ‘develop’ its existing terminal. Regardless of what this will actually mean, the decision raises important questions about both the short- and long-term future of the aviation industry and its workers.

Texas Union Activists Fight 'Microtransit' Privatization

By Joe DeManuelle-Hall - Labor Notes, March 8, 2022

When “microtransit,” the new rage in transit privatization, showed up in Denton, Texas, union activists decided to fight back.

Microtransit is a loosely defined term that combines on-demand service with flexible scheduling and routes—imagine replacing a bus system with shared Ubers. It is presented as a high-tech alternative to public transit, but in reality it’s an extension of the drive to privatize.

Some local governments around the country have already handed off operations of their public transit systems to large private operators like Keolis and MV Transportation. This move takes it one step further: dumping the buses and bus drivers altogether.

MICRO-PRIVATIZATION

Denton is a small city in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, home to two universities. The Denton County Transportation Authority operates buses and a light rail line in Denton and two neighboring cities.

The mayor and the transit agency began exploring alternatives to the existing transit system several years ago, nominally to save money. In 2020, Dallas’s transit system adopted a microtransit pilot, contracting with Uber to provide the service. Following their lead, Denton sought out microtransit and decided to go with a company called Via, a former competitor to Uber and Lyft that got iced out of the rideshare market and rebranded itself as a microtransit company. It has since chased after cities and counties, offering to supplant their public transit systems.

And that’s exactly what Via set out to do in Denton: replace all fixed-route bus service with on-demand vehicles driven by independent contractors who are hailed by an app. Drivers operate rented vehicles that they’re responsible for. For the DCTA, this comes with the benefit of getting rid of the existing unionized workforce and the capital investment that comes with maintaining and operating a bus system.

Shopfloor Ecosocialism: Pumping the Brakes on Fossil Fuels

By Nicole A. Murray - Partisan, March 3, 2022

How organized labor can shift us away from dominant car culture and turn the tides of climate crisis at the point of production:

Organized labor is currently faced with the most consequential question of its life: are oil and gas commodities that workers have a right to burn for their own material benefit; or should they be left in the ground?

As an ecosocialist, the answer is clear: no more burning fossil fuels. Organized labor is in the unique position to both disrupt the deep systems that perpetuate dependence on fossil fuels and the products that run on them, while also ensuring production pivots towards the greater public good over individual personal luxury.

One system ripe for disruption is car dependence. Car-centric living requires millions of gallons of fossil fuels be burned into the air, every day, just so people can participate in society. It is a structural problem that requires a large-scale, organized solution that is clear-eyed on both the source and the results of car dependency. 

The existing pattern of development in the US in our urban, suburban and peri-urban spaces reflects an intentional plan by petro-capitalists and the state to center life around the automobile. The Federal Housing Administration subsidized low-density suburban development from the 1930s through the post-war years. Ex-urban homeownership, largely enjoyed exclusively by white families, boosted demand for automobiles, consumer durables, and energy consumption, thereby absorbing overproduction from some of the biggest industries of the time: the oil and automotive industries.1 Indeed, the self-reinforcing and self-reproducing system of sprawl, cars, and gas make this system difficult to disrupt on a systemic level when the petro-capitalists are still many regions’ top employers and tax payers.

Today, car-centric systems seem fair and normal. Yet Americans collectively owe $1.37 trillion in auto loan debt — 10 times that of medical debt — to collectively burn about 350 millions gallons of finished motor gasoline into the air per day,2 dwarfing China in terms of both per capita and total gasoline use.3 Unlike in other sectors such as energy production, global emissions in road transportation are projected to grow, and grow fast.

Make no mistake: it’s the system of automobility as a whole that is unsustainable, not individual use and consumption. Even advances in efficiency, including electrification (electric vehicles) will be wiped out by more widespread adoption especially as auto manufacturers open up markets in the global south.

A Green New Deal for Transportation: Establishing New Federal Investment Priorities to Build Just and Sustainable Communities

By Yonah Freemark, Billy Fleming, Caitlin McCoy, Rennie Meyers, Thea Riofrancos, Xan Lillehei, and Daniel Aldana Cohen - Climate and Community Project, February 2022

The transportation system is the connective tissue that transforms pockets of communities into a networked society. It links home, school, work, and play. It drives economic growth, social mobility, and employment opportunities. 

The transportation sector currently emits more carbon pollution than any other sector in the US economy. The automobiles we drive, the trucks, trains, and ships that deliver our goods, the airline flights we take, and other transportation activities account for about 28 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions. The passage of President Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is replete with new funding for state and local highway expansion, and seems likely to further exacerbate the sector’s emissions. More than 120 years after electric vehicles briefly achieved popularity in the 1900s, petroleum products still power over 91 percent of today’s transportation system. Americans collectively drive more than three trillion vehicle miles per year, most of those as a single driver in an automobile. Life in the United States is organized around personal automobiles powered by petroleum. For a Green New Deal in transportation to be possible, that has to change. A climate-safe future requires a swift and just decarbonization of the transportation sector, a major expansion of public and active transportation, and the parallel decarbonization of the electricity sector.

Transportation often exacerbates social inequity and racial injustice within and between communities. Its infrastructure speeds the movement of those who are better off, to the detriment of those who are most in need. In far too many communities, governments, planners, and engineers prioritize vehicles over people and efficiency in travel time at the cost of quality of life. Choices made by elected officials and transportation agencies about how funds are allocated at the federal, state, and local levels have played a major role in reinforcing these outcomes over the past century.

In 2021, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – the centerpiece of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework. It provides substantial new funds for intra-city public transit, intercity passenger rail, and new electric vehicle charging infrastructure. It also includes $7.5 billion in new discretionary funding for innovative transit projects in the RAISE program (formerly BUILD and TIGER), along with new incentives for roadway repair and maintenance. However, the bill also allocates $350 billion towards new road and highway projects that will be administered by state and local departments of transportation. Much of this funding is likely to be spent on highway expansion projects. In short, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is poised to invest in a small number of innovative, low-carbon public transit projects alongside a massive new investment in roads and highways – locking in higher emissions for the sector than those that predated the bill. In other words, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act could invest dramatically more on highway expansion than on innovative, low-carbon public transit projects. That dynamic has to change.

In this report, we propose a series of critical opportunities for new transportation-related policies to improve equal access, mobility, and opportunity in our transportation system, reduce emissions, support global climate cooperation, and develop long-lasting infrastructure and workforce development strategies on a changing planet. We argue for a move away from past policies that encouraged the release of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants while furthering social inequity. Crucially, this report aims to shift the conversation surrounding the transportation sector and decarbonization from focusing exclusively on electric vehicles and high-speed rail to addressing the many disparate parts of America’s transportation system. This includes a focus on intra- and intercity rail in addition to high-speed rail; an approach to electric vehicles that pairs supply-side policies (e.g. manufacturing tax credits) with a more progressive demand-side approach that benefits low and middle-income households with few public transit options instead of wealthy, coastal city residents who tend to purchase high-end luxury electric vehicles (e.g. Tesla).

Instead, the transportation system should be viewed as a strategic lever for investing in good-paying low-carbon jobs, justice, and a decarbonized economy. We build on the important progress Congress members have made through their introduction of bills such as the Moving Forward Act to identify a series of policies that would further that ambition.

Read the text (PDF).

Your Two-Day Shipping Needs to Change

Better public transport is the only way to cut carbon emissions, unions and campaigners urge

By Niall Christie - Morning Star, November 10, 2021

Cop26 summit ignores rail, buses, ferries and bicycles and puts its focus on cars and planes instead.

CREATING universal and comprehensive public transport is the only way to effectively cut carbon emissions from travel at home and abroad, unions and campaigners have said during Cop26.

Campaigners and politicians condemned the lack of consideration of rail, bus, ferry and cycle transport during proceedings at the summit today, where the focus was put on cars and planes instead.

Officials and delegates at the gathering in Glasgow made a number of announcements on transport, including on zero-emissions vehicles, so-called green shipping corridors, and on decarbonising air travel.

Tory Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that travel, including aviation, should be “guilt-free.” He also said that the government did not see flying as “the ultimate evil,” after officials, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, were condemned for using planes for short journeys during Cop26.

But unions and campaign groups highlighted the need for stronger rail and bus services throughout Britain, and backed public ownership to ensure that services work for all.

Before talks began at the conference hall on the River Clyde, a large demonstration took place in George Square with demands for equal access to transport systems in the summit’s host city.

Delegates at the summit have been given a travel pass which grants free travel on buses, trains and the subway system.

But no integrated travel system exists in Scotland, and the cost of the largely privatised sector has been on the rise in recent years.

Friends of the Earth Scotland transport campaigner Gavin Thomson told the Morning Star that only a radical overhaul of the transport system can deliver a just transition to a greener planet.

“We need to start thinking about transport like we do about health and education: as so important to public life that it’s paid for out of general taxation and free at the point of use,” he said.

“Not just because we drastically need to reduce emissions from transport, but because it is so important to things like education, employment and reducing social isolation.”

Trade union leaders joined the call for focus on public transport, with STUC deputy general secretary Dave Moxham asserting that the free market has no place in the sector.

The alternative is to run our own bus and rail networks, he said, adding that now is the time to act.

A Transport Scotland spokesman said the government “is taking forward a comprehensive suite of measures to promote more sustainable, affordable public transport journeys and deprioritise car use.”

At an event organised by the Peace and Justice Project, rail unions set out their vision for the railways.

Kevin Lindsay, Aslef’s organiser in Scotland, said that rail in Scotland will largely remain privatised even after Scotrail returns to public hands next year.

In a move towards providing a railway for all, he said that everybody under the age of 24 should be given free transport on rail services.

RMT organiser Mick Hogg said he was increasingly concerned about suggested cuts to services, and called for passengers, vulnerable communities and railway infrastructure to be put first.

We Own It director Cat Hobbs said that Britain must bring buses and trains back into public ownership and control.

“We can’t tackle the climate crisis unless we give people a real alternative to cars and planes, instead of just trying to make them greener,” she said.

“We need a decent, affordable, high-quality public transport network that we can all rely on, to make the best use of shared resources.

“The privatisation money-grab of the last 30 years hasn’t served passengers or the planet.”

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said there must be an increase in rail capacity from north to south, and called for urgent action to protect the future of the railways in Scotland and beyond.

The transfer of Scotrail to public hands must be the beginning of full public ownership of public transport in Britain, he said, adding: “Get the leeches off the railway, get the staff into the trains, and get the public back onto the railway.”

Making COP26 Count: How investing in public transport this decade can protect our jobs, our climate, our future

By staff - International Transport Workers Federation and C40 Cities Leadership Group, November 10, 2021

Transport is currently responsible for a quarter of CO2 emissions. To combat this, a global shift to public transport, walking and cycling is needed, reducing car use alongside a transition to zero-emission vehicles. The proportion of public transport journeys in the world’s cities must double in this decade to bring global emissions down, in line with keeping the temperature rise to 1.5°C. Without this action, it will simply not be possible for countries to deliver on the global goal to at least halve emissions within this decade.

Climate protection cannot work without a modal shift. Local transport must become a good alternative to cars … above all, people must be taken along.

Robert Seifert, young vehicle maintenance worker, Berlin Doubling public transport usage as part of a green recovery would, by 2030, create tens of millions of jobs in cities around the world (4.6 million new jobs in the nearly 100 C40 cities alone), cut urban transport emissions by more than half, and reduce air pollution from transport by up to 45%2. It would protect lower-income and service-sector workers and connect city residents to work, education and community.

Read the text (PDF).

Climate Jobs: Building a Workforce for the Climate Emergency

By Suzanne Jeffery, editor, et. al - Campaign Against Climate Change, November 2021

This report was written by the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group (CACCTU). It builds on and develops the earlier work produced by CACCTU, One Million Climate Jobs (2014). The editorial group and contributors to this report are trade unionists, environmental activists and campaigners and academics who have collaborated to update and expand the previous work. Most importantly, this updated report is a response to the urgency of the climate crisis and the type and scale of the transition needed to match it.

This report shows how we can cut UK emissions of greenhouse gases to help prevent catastrophic climate change. We explain how this transformation could create millions of climate jobs in the coming years and that the public sector must take a leading role. Climate jobs are those which directly contribute to reducing emissions. This investment will give us better public transport, warmer homes, clean air in our cities and community renewal in parts of the country which have long been neglected. Most importantly, it will give us a chance for the future, avoiding the existential threat of climate breakdown.

Read the text (Link).

The Green Horizon We See Beyond the Big Blue: How Seafarers Will Lead the Just Transition Needed for a Sustainable Shipping Future

By staff - International Transport Workers Federation Seafarer's Section, October 29, 2021

Bush and forest fires, floods, heatwaves, extreme storms and rising sea levels – the life-threatening events which herald dangerous climate change are already taking place around us with increasing frequency. Scientists are clear that humans’ impact on the Earth’s climate is reaching a tipping point beyond which a safe climate is in doubt.

At the heart of the problem is our reliance on greenhouse gas-producing fossil fuels to power industries like shipping, a reliance with a long history. On a global level, international cargo shipping is responsible for about three percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. From the early 1800s, coal was used to fire steam boilers for paddle steamers, which was switched to oil variants when technology improved. Fast forward to today and billions of litres of fossil fuels are used every year to power over 50,000 vessels that keep the world’s supply chain moving.

A Panamax container ship, an averaged sized cargo vessel, consumes about 63,000 gallons (286,403 litres) of marine fuel per day travelling at between 20 and 25 knots.

The global shipping industry must break its dependency on fossil fuels. The rapid expansion of international shipping over the past 50 years has been enabled by the reliance on cheap heavy fuel oil, known as bunker fuel. Key players in the industry have lobbied against restrictions on its use, despite it being one of the most polluting of all fossil fuels.

While it is true that international shipping has low carbon intensity – that is emissions per unit of moved cargo – the total emissions of the industry is very high due to the sheer volume of global maritime shipping. Until now, the focus on carbon intensity as opposed to total carbon emissions has led to false confidence about the carbon footprint of the industry compared to other sectors.

Now that more people are understanding the impact shipping is having on our climate, our industry’s reputation is being damaged. Seafarers want to be able to tell their friends and family that they’re part of a sector taking real and equitable action to curb dangerous climate change. It’s time to act.

Read the text (PDF).

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