Just as scheduled air service to small communities becomes a focus of FAA reauthorization in the Senate, a new study reveals that nearly four million rural Americans lost access to intercity travel.
The study by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics finds 89 percent of Americans have access to scheduled air, bus, ferry or rail service. That's down from 93 percent five years ago. Alabama saw the most dramatic decline - nearly 30 percent of its residents lost access to scheduled intercity transportation between 2005-2010.
The new statistics are being released just days after the Obama Administration outlined its FY 2012 budget proposal, which includes a call for $53 billion worth of new investment in high-speed rail.
The government report defined "access to transportation" as living within 25 miles from a non- or small-hub airport, bus station, ferry terminal, or rail station providing intercity service, and 75 miles from a medium- or large-hub airport.
The issue of scheduled air service to remote airports is a hot topic of debate in Congress right now. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has offered an amendment to the Senate's version of an FAA reauthorization measure eliminating the Essential Air Service program. The EAS, created in the 1970's and originally intended to be temporary, subsidizes airlines with millions of federal tax dollars to maintain scheduled air service to these smaller communities. The McCain amendment appears to be gaining some bipartisan support.