I admit, I was as pessimistic as anyone about the prospects of an “overwhelmingly-approved” transportation bill containing anything positive for U.S. travelers. When we wrote about this in September, we noted, “the trucking industry (for one) has been … slipping into this bill so many anti-safety trucking provisions that it frankly would be better if no long-term bill passed at all.” The bill (as then written) would have, for example, “reduced the interstate age requirements for large commercial truck drivers from 21 to 18 years old.”
Whoever said miracles don’t happen? Not only did Congress ultimately scrap the teen trucker provision, but also it did a few things we honestly thought they might never do.
Lets begin with Amtrak’s liability. As part of this legislation, Congress increased Amtrak’s liability cap from $200 million to $295 with an inflationary adjustment every five years, and made the increase retroactive to cover compensation to victims of May’s tragic Amtrak derailment and crash in Philadelphia. And if I don’t mind my saying, yours truly at the ThePopTort would like to take a little bit of credit for this extraordinary result. Here’s why.
One day after the terrible May crash, Center for Justice & Democracy Executive Director, Joanne Doroshow, wrote a blog in the Huffington Post, which the ThePopTort reposted, and circulated it to several major media outlets, with this note: “The link below is to a recent blog post about a public policy that will affect victims of Tuesday's Amtrak accident but so far is not getting much attention - Amtrak's liability cap.” We had written about this cap before, knew its history, and knew what it might mean for Amtrak's injured passengers.
The Washington Post immediately contacted us, saying, “This is fascinating. And distressing. Are you available to chat?” We were, and we did, and that very day, this story appeared. And then Bloomberg called leading to this wire story, and then this one and then the Post again. Then lots of other outlets starting covering this and within days, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) had introduced legislation to increase the cap (quoting the Bloomberg story) and the rest is history - thanks to a lot of hard work by advocates in DC.
Sen. Nelson sought a more significant increase, and clearly that would have been better. But given this Congress, a 45 percent increase is amazing. A miracle, actually.
Second is rental cars. For the last several years, we’ve been covering a mind-boggling loophole in our auto safety laws, i.e., rental car companies were allowed by law to rent cars subject to safety recalls without fixing them first. Thanks to the persistent efforts of: 1. Cally Houck, whose daughters Raechel and Jacqueline were tragically killed in a defective, recalled Enterprise rental car (see our earliest coverage here), and 2. the indefatigable consumer advocate Rosemary Shahan of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (and her incredibly effective DC advocates), the law now bans “rental car companies from keeping cars in operation that are subject to recalls until the necessary fixes are made.” It’s not a perfect fix. Cally Houck, who worked so hard on this, “said in a statement she was thrilled by the measure but remained ‘deeply concerned’ about a loaner car loophole that exempts car dealers with fewer than 35 cars for renting or loaning to customers.” We’re concerned, too. But like Cally, we are also pretty thrilled.