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FAST Act Panel: Tie Travel Modes Together

January 29, 2021

A study panel of U.S. travel industry leaders from airlines, airports, buses, cruise ships and rail set up by the FAST Act urged DOT to think holistically about the country's interconnected and intermodal travel network when it comes to policy and funding. Rail Passengers CEO Jim Mathews was the principal report drafter on behalf of the Committee.

In its waning hours on January 19th, the Trump Administration quietly released the recommendations of the National Advisory Committee on Travel & Tourism Infrastructure, which focused on creating a legislative and policy framework to tie together all of America’s transportation networks – air, roads and rail – for sustained investment.

Rail Passengers Association played a major role in the multi-modal Committee and its work.

The NACTTI was created by the FAST Act surface-transportation authorization in 2015 to help the DOT Secretary write a four-year Transportation Strategic Plan. NACTTI members were leaders from airlines, airports, the cruise industry, motorcoaches, tourism-promotion groups, large convention and visitors’ bureaus such as Las Vegas and New York, as well as some elected officials. Rail Passengers’ President and CEO Jim Mathews was appointed by DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx in 2015 to serve on the NACTTI as the only voice for passenger rail. DOT Secretary Elaine Chao re-appointed Mathews two years later.

The panel worked for nearly five years and met formally six times to unify analysis and policy around transportation investments, with an eye toward finding new funding, removing barriers to investment and recognizing rail’s role as an equal player in the U.S. transportation landscape. Mathews, from Rail Passengers, was the report’s principal drafter on behalf of the Committee. (The full report PDF can be downloaded here.)

One of the more important, if wonky, recommendations was for DOT to define and create a National Travel and Tourism Infrastructure Network to prioritize investments, guide federal policy development, and encourage collaboration across all transportation modes. DOT took that recommendation but failed to include all of the elements the NACTTI recommended. Rail Passengers hopes to work with the incoming DOT team to adopt an even more bold approach.

The NACTTI also offered concrete solutions to tackle barriers, ranging from modernizing funding mechanisms to better aligning policy work among U.S. DOT’s modal agencies and streamlining regulatory processes to improve value.

“Every element of modern life is touched by the U.S. travel industry, which generates more than $2 trillion of economic output, supports nearly 16 million American jobs, and accounts for more than $1 trillion in direct spending on leisure and business travel,” the report said. “Our vast transportation infrastructure makes us competitive in the world economy, creating the prerequisites for economic success and private investment, improving our quality of life, and strengthening our national security.”

Mathews also took the opportunity this week to thank the Rail Passengers staff, which also participated in many NACTTI working meetings and supported the Committee’s research and policy formation along with the Association's former communications counsel Xenophon Strategies, which developed many of the maps and graphics used in the final report.