Dr. Stephen D. Van Beek says there’s a culture gap in the U.S. when it comes to transportation interests. In the vernacular of our time, it is an industry of silos, each with its own special interests. “When we’re talking about authority, it’s very difficult to come to a resolution because everybody has a different idea of what their roles and responsibilities are within the system. As long as you have that, I don’t know how you get over the finish line,” he says. Over the past century the nation has built a system of highways and airports, and to a lesser degree rail — each pretty much independent of the others. That, says Van Beek, is about to change, driven by the market forces of skyrocketing fuel prices and the global movement to reduce the carbon footprint of humans.
Dr. Van Beek is the president and CEO of the Eno Transportation Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank with the stated purpose of cultivating creative and visionary leadership for all sectors of transportation. It was founded in 1921 by William Phelps Eno, a pioneer in the field of traffic management in the U.S. and Europe.
Dr. Van Beek, who joined Eno in 2007, has experience with airports with Jacobs Consultancy and as the head of policy for Airports Council International-North America. He was previously a director for the U.S. DOT’s Office of Intermodalism and continues to teach with the Intermodal Transportation Institute at the University of Denver.
He recently discussed the changing face of U.S. transportation with AIRPORT BUSINESS. Following are edited excerpts of that discussion ...
AIRPORT BUSINESS: Tell us about the Eno Foundation and its role in future planning.
Van Beek: We do a lot on policy and run policy forums to try to frame the critical and emerging issues in transportation, and that’s multimodal. We do a lot with transit and with ports and maritime, and highways; they’ve done things with aviation in the past, but certainly getting me on board puts that policy more as a focus.
Secondly, we run a lot of professional development programs, mainly for people who are becoming transportation executives within public authorities.
We’re working on the production on an intermodal freight book that will be used by industry professionals and by classes in the U.S.
The best way to think of us is, rather than a foundation, what we really are is more like a think tank that also does a fair amount of professional development. We tend to be more neutral. A lot of our focus would be on problem-solving and training of issues. We don’t get too involved in advocacy.
Two policy forums this year of interest are climate change and transportation and one on surface transportation projects.
AB: It would appear the U.S. aviation industry is facing significant change, driven by new environmental demands being led by Europe.
Van Beek: Unlike a lot of issues, it’s one that by its very nature is global, national, and local. That makes it very tough.
If one is an airport operator today and one was to ask that airport operator, what are you doing about clean air and clean water as you build this new facility? The director would be able to tell you quite clearly what they were going to do, because there’s an environmental impact review process; you look at alternatives and eventually get into mitigating whatever harm that you’re doing.
Think of that same airport director with climate change. What do you advise him today?
Let’s say you’re adding a runway and are going to increase capacity; you’re therefore going to enable more greenhouse gas emissions. What is your role as an airport operator? How do you factor that into your decisionmaking going forward? It’s very unclear.
For an airport, unlike an airline, the only time you really have to deal with that issue is when you’re adding that capacity, because an airport doesn’t regulate the type of aircraft. Therefore, you have no ability to say, bring in one A-380 rather than four separate aircraft, each of which might emit more greenhouse emissions than would the A-380.