Trump proposes higher fees for air travelers, less money for Amtrak

Trump proposes higher fees for air travelers, less money for Amtrak
Photo Credit: Denis Belitsky/Shutterstock

The Trump administration has proposed increases to the security, customs and immigration fees paid by airline and cruise passengers.

The White House is also calling for cuts to federal subsidies for small-community air service and long-distance Amtrak service, and continues to support privatization of U.S. air traffic control (ATC).

The recommendations were part of the $4.4 trillion budget proposal the administration sent to Congress on Monday.

The White House has identified three travel security-related fees that it would like to see increased. The budget calls for a bump in the 9/11-passenger security fee that is assessed on airfare from the current $5.60 per one-way trip to $6.60 in 2019 and then to $8.25 beginning in 2020.

The 9/11 fee goes toward TSA airport operations, but Congress also diverts approximately one-third of the revenue for items unrelated to security. Increasing the fee, the administration said, would result in the traveling public paying for the full cost of aviation security.

Also, as a cost-recovery measure, the budget calls for an increase in the customs inspection fee, which is assessed as part of air and cruise ticket prices for people arriving in the U.S., from $5.65 to $7.75.

Finally, the budget calls for a jump in the immigration fee, also assessed upon ticketing for air and cruise passengers to the U.S., from $7 to $9. The proposal includes putting an end to an existing exemption on that fee for passengers arriving via sea from Canada and Mexico.

The administration noted that the customs fee and immigration fee were last increased in 2007 and 2001, respectively.

The trade group Airlines for America came out sharply against the proposals.

"Increasing taxes in any form will add to the cost of flying for millions of Americans, curtail job growth and limit the options small and medium communities currently enjoy," Airlines for America CEO Nick Calio said in a statement.

The Trump administration first called for an increase to the 9/11 fee in its budget proposal last year.

Also keeping with a theme from the budget the White House put forward a year ago, Monday's budget recommends reducing expenditures on the Essential Air Service (EAS) program from the 2017 level of $150 million to $93 million in 2019.  

As of October 2016, the most recent date for which the DOT has data on its website, the EAS program subsidized commercial flights in 120 communities in the continental U.S and Hawaii. In addition, 237 Alaskan communities are eligible for the program. The program was put in place in 1978 to help remote towns remain in the national air traffic network when airlines were deregulated.

"However, today many EAS flights are not full and have high per-passenger subsidy costs. Several EAS eligible communities are relatively close to major airports," the budget proposal says.

Also targeted by the White House for cuts in 2019 are grants that go to Amtrak to support long-distance routes. The budget calls for a reduction of more than half for those grants, from the 2017 amount of $1.5 billion to $738 million in 2019.

Amtrak's long-distance routes suffer from poor on-time performance, account for only 4.7 million of Amtrak's nearly 32 million annual passengers, and incur annual operating losses of more than $500 million," the administration said.

The budget proposes that states contribute to the Amtrak grants on an equal basis with the federal government.

Finally, the 2019 budget proposal reiterates the president's support for shifting ATC from the auspices of the FAA to an independent private organization. Proponents say such a move would speed implementation of the satellite-based NextGen system while removing ATC from contentious appropriation debates in Congress.

Opponents say that it would reduce public accountability while harming the interests of private aviation.

A Republican-sponsored ATC privatization bill has twice made it through the House transportation committee, but the bill has failed to gain traction in the full House or in the Senate and has met with opposition from many Democrats and a significant number of Republicans, as well.

In total, the Trump administration requested $15.6 billion for the Department of Transportation in 2019, 19% less than the department's enacted 2017 budget of $19.3 billion.


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