Ray LaHood Rocks the House

Mobility Lab’s communications team billed this event as “Ray LaHood unplugged,” and it really became that sort of a jam.

LaHood riffed on everything from Arlington streetcars to bikes and on national safe school-bus transportation programs to Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel visiting 145 “elevated” stops to ensure better transit for working folks.

Ray LaHood, the former U.S. transportation secretary and champion of multi-modalism, broke three pieces of news at Mobility Lab’s “People First: The Future of Transportation” event this week at George Mason’s Arlington campus. There were three top reporters on hand from Politico, The Washington Post and WAMU public radio. In answer to one provocative question, he told Martin Di Caro of the American University station, “I already gave you your news story for today!”

News Bite One: LaHood called for an increase of the gas tax to 10 percent, indexed for inflation, so that sales receipts at the pump more accurately reflect our country’s transportation needs. In the reporter gaggle surrounding LaHood after the event, Adam Snider from Politico asked: “Aren’t you afraid your old boss (President Obama) might take exception to that suggestion?” To which the former secretary of transportation replied, “That’s OK, I am a free man now, a private citizen.”

News Bite Two: LaHood called for Mobility Lab to seek out federal funding to become a pilot program for other cities and states. He called on Congress to fund mobility programs in the next transportation bill.

“Mobility Lab could be a pilot for the country,” he said. “There should be a carve-out program in the transportation bill in which you would take this program to 4- or 5 cities, both urban and [rural]. Take this pilot on the road and fund it for 4 or 5 years.” He then mentioned multi-modalism examples that Mobility Lab already provides. “Take Mobility Lab on the road” – show other jurisdictions “models in Arlington County for bike, bus rapid transit, streetcars.”

Josh Kavanagh of ACT

Rising to the challenge, Mobility Lab’s Howard Jennings said, “You are on!” Jennings accepted the gauntlet lay-down to move to a national conversation. With Josh Kavanagh, board president of the Association for Commuter Transportation on the stage – and Mobility Lab winning this year’s ACT president’s award, there was energy in the crowd about the national possibilities.

News Bite Three: LaHood called for increased funding for DOT overall through a combination of federal, and state efforts. He lauded Virginia for moving from a gas tax to a sales tax to fund spending alternatives and roads in the worst region for traffic in America!

LaHood said the federal and state governments should consider vehicle-miles-traveled taxes, public/private partnerships, and tolling to raise transportation funds. “But you’ve got to have a big pot of money. We don’t have it now. The reason Congress passed a two-year bill, MAP-21, was because they could only find $109 billion. We need a five- or six-hundred billion dollar transportation program. That will just scratch the surface.”

LaHood really wants his legacy to be about inclusiveness. He used that term 5-6 times during his talk, including describing his own success at the U.S. Department of Transportation (and one could add as a congressman).

It was striking that the government shutdown loomed behind him as he made these calls to action. He said, “Our elected officials need to take a broader view of things and in a complementary way. Be inclusive, that is how we worked at the DOT.” And later: “Be more inclusive with common citizens.” And again: “Be more inclusive of those who have not been with you at the [transportation demand management] table.” And once more: “Be inclusive of small business and give employers more opportunity for involvement.”

We are glad that Ray LaHood had the opportunity to inspire such a wide swath of transportation experts and aficionados. The robust dialogue and excitement in the room made it clear that we have a real shot at improving transportation in America.

Some related media coverage:

  • POLITICO: Remember Ray?
  • WAMU 88.5 FM: Former Transportation Secretary Calls on Congress to Raise Gas Tax
  • Storify Tweets: LaHood Offers Suggestions for “the Future of Transportation in America.”
  • Tax Analysts: Former Transportation Secretary Advocates Gas Tax Increase
  • Transport Topics: Fuel Tax Should Rise 10 Cents, Says Former Transportation Secretary LaHood

Editor’s Note: Thanks to Mike’s team at GreenSmith PR for helping Mobility Lab secure Ray LaHood to speak at this event.

Photos by M.V. Jantzen and Cheryl Vosburg of GreenSmith PR

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