U.S. President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal includes a number of travel-related items including increased TSA fees, privatizing the air traffic control system, and cutting Amtrak and Essential Air Service funding.
Let’s not forget that Trump said this during the campaign (go to 1:33)–
and for years before–
While his new budget does not specifically allocate money for the kind of infrastructure projects that would wholly modernize America’s major airports with federal dollars, he is proposing a number of changes that would impact travelers.
1. Higher TSA Fees
The budget calls for a cut in TSA funding to fund the President’s border wall plan, but that would be offset by an increase in passenger fees. Politico reports the White House is floating a $1.00 increase in the security fee, meaning it would rise from $5.50 to $6.50 per one-way journey.
2. Privatized Air Traffic Control System
The budget calls for an “independent, nongovernmental organization” with the goal of creating a system “more efficient and innovative while maintaining safety.” Called NextGen, the system would move the U.S. toward a digital/satelite-based model of ATC rather than the outdated radar system currently in place.
3. Cut to Amtrak Funding
Amtrak’s long-distance train service has lost money for decades and yet somehow managed to survive. The budget calls on Amtrak to abandon longhaul train routes and focus on its profitable Northeast corridor.
4. Elimination of Essential Air Service (EAS)
Essential Air Service brings subsidized commercial air service to smaller airports. This program runs $175 million and has a staggering cost per passenger. Under the new budget, it would be completely cut.
We have yet to see Trump’s infrastructure plan, though the Wall Street Journal offers a preview.
My Thoughts on the Budget
None of these cuts are particularly offensive to me. After a trip on two long-distance Amtrak trains last year, I understand why the service fails to make money. The generous salaries and self-entitled culture of the customer-facing employees was shocking. Couple that with empty trains and Amtrak has no defense upon which to continue its historic longhaul routes.
I view EAS as a huge waste. A couple years ago, I wrote about a 9-seat airliner in California and even with subsidies, it still folded.
I’m not in favor of increasing the TSA fee, but would be okay with it if the diverted federal money would go toward toward airport infrastructure investment rather than a border wall.
Finally, the ATC modernization plan makes a lot of sense, though I am a bit worried that privatization could lead to European-style labor problems. Some air traffic controllers in Spain, for example, take in salaries of nearly $1MN/year and still strike. On the flipside, some may argue that privatization would minimize this risk.
I wrote about transformations at LAX and the general need for investment in transportation infrastructure in the past. When done prudently, airport investments have a ripple effect that greatly benefits the larger economy.
My concerns are not so much for the cuts themselves, but how the money will be redirected. Throwing money at everything does not necessarily solve problems, but investing in America’s infrastructure is critical for robust economic growth in years to come.
> Read More: 5 Ways LAX is Becoming America’s Best Airport
> Read More: The Travel Infrastructure Problem in the USA