Economic deregulation within transportation is collapsing due to staff shortages and derailments. The United States government must reframe transportation infrastructure.
Goods have to be shipped, driven and sailed across the world before they reach the customer, which is where the problem lies.
Decades of deregulation across airlines, trucking and overseas shipping, combined with the austerity budgeting of the neoliberal turn of the 1970s, created fragile modern infrastructure.
Economically disastrous events like the 2021 blocking of the Suez Canal, the derailment of trains and the breakdown of roadways are not isolated events but the direct result of decades of policy.
These deregulations were not simply financial – they also involved safety and manufacturing standards. The deregulations allowed trucking companies to build weaker trucks to ship more goods and for rail companies to do less maintenance to run trains more often, making an unsafe industry that the American economy depends on.
For example, a Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio on Feb. 2. The attempt at containing the spill resulted in an ecological catastrophe with public health consequences that are still not fully understood.
These struggles affect the lives of Charlotte residents as well. It only recently came to light that the LYNX Blue line had a serious derailment due to faulty equipment in May 2022.
The source of the breakdown was the train's bearings, which absorb friction. The city will have to finance the repairs as the bearings' warranty expired, which is another sign of inattention to maintenance needs.
Charlotte Area Transportation System (CATS), which manages the city's buses and trains, has suffered similarly. Buses suffer from maintenance issues, a lack of staff members, delays and increased reports of violence. The city has addressed these issues, seeking to replace the bus fleet with new, electric-powered vehicles and to fully repair the trains to avert another derailment.
Unfortunately, this solution comes nearly a year after the incident. The fact that this derailment and maintenance issue was not public information implies that the LYNX Blue Line has been running on faulty parts since. It was not until the North Carolina Transportation Department inquired about an incident report that the City Council discovered the problem.
This lack of prioritization is mirrored in the federal government's response to similar issues. The East Palestine disaster came two months after President Biden enforced a contract on striking Norfolk Southern rail workers who were protesting a lack of maintenance on the railways and unsafe working conditions. Biden sided against the union, seeing their demands and strike threat as too detrimental to economic progress.
The federal government's direct response to the disaster also reflects this attitude, with transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg visiting the site 20 days after the incident and blaming the previous administration's policies despite being two years into his term. Biden is yet to see the site in person.
Aside from ground transportation, Charlotte has also suffered from airline deregulation. The Charlotte-Douglas International Airport contends with large numbers of delays, cancellations and staffing shortages.
In February 2022, the Federal Airline Administration's online system shorted out, creating a mass stoppage of domestic flights. As recently as March 14, the airport closed two of its three runways to clean up a massive spill following the emergency landing of a freshly departed passenger plane after its fuel tank broke open.
Ultimately, these issues are not abstract matters of finance or legalese; people's lives, livelihoods and communities directly suffer from regulatory failures. The profits of exorbitantly successful companies should not come before the people they are supposed to be serving.