If it wasn't a call to arms, it was certainly a call for spending. In his November keynote address to the joint meeting of the National Industrial Transportation League (NITL), the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA), and the Transportation Intermediaries Association (TIA), Kurt Kuehn of UPS urged shippers and carriers to support new user-based fees and taxes to fund infrastructure improvements.
Kuehn, who is UPS's senior vice president of worldwide sales and marketing, told his audience that gridlock in the nation's transportation system costs the country $200 billion a year and will only get worse. Though he conceded that his proposal would be "controversial," he nonetheless argued for raising the federal tax on gasoline as a means of paying for infrastructure expansion. He also suggested a tax of $25 on all commercial flights along with increases in the aviation jet-fuel tax. In addition, he backed a user fee for railroads that would go into a trust fund to help pay for more track upgrades.
Kuehn also proposed that, in addition to implementing new revenue mechanisms, government officials leverage technology to maximize the capacity of the current transportation system. For example, federal and state highway authorities could adopt realtime traffic systems that alert drivers to congestion and suggest alternate routes.
Finally, he urged shippers and carriers to work together and push for action by government officials. "The success of your company and my company is dependent on the transportation infrastructure and free flow of goods," he said.
The joint NITL-IANA-TIA event, which was held in Atlanta, attracted some 3,000 attendees. The meeting marked a major milestone for the league, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
Kurt Kuehn of UPS wasn't the only one to call for new taxes at the joint NITL-IANA-TIA event. His recommendations were echoed in a new report released at the 2007 Intermodal Expo and TransComp, the trade show held in conjunction with the meetings. That report, Leveraging the Freight Network: 10 Steps to Improved Modal Connectivity, calls on Congress to put more money in the Highway Trust Fund by raising the federal fuel tax and indexing future increases to inflation. It also included 10 recommendations for strengthening the U.S. intermodal network.
Along with raising the federal fuel tax, the report, which was sponsored by the National Center for Intermodal Transportation and the Foundation for Intermodal Research and Education, recommended that Congress consider a dedicated fee for the intermodal system similar to the current Passenger Facility Charge. That fee allows commercial airports to collect up to $4.50 from the airlines for every boarding passenger. Another recommendation was to launch a short-sea shipping pilot program. Common in Europe, short-sea shipping transports intermodal shipments along coastlines or rivers.
Other recommendations included: