The Incredible Hypocrisy of the AAA

| 9/26/2010 4:17:56 PM

RTClogoA few weeks ago, Keith Laughlin was flipping through his latest issue of AAA World, the magazine published by the American Automobile Association. Like millions of U.S. residents, the president of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is a member of the AAA, the nation's largest motoring and travel organization. But one article stopped Laughlin in his tracks.

Last month, at the Pro Walk Pro Bike conference in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Laughlin shared his chagrin with hundreds — and the entire audience gasped at the incredible hypocrisy. In just a matter of days, that outrage turned into a national campaign that's already caught the attention of top brass at the AAA.

So what did that controversial article say? Well, it came from Don Gagnon, the president and CEO of AAA Mid-Atlantic. In the July/August editorial, Gagnon argued that non-motorized projects, like the multi-use paths enjoyed by countless Americans and promoted by the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy, shouldn’t get so much as a single cent from the Federal Highway Trust Fund.

Now, the Federal Highway Trust Fund isn't quite as specific as it sounds — that pot of money is filled, not only by levies on the trucking industry, but also by the gas taxes we all pay at the pump. It's not only used for highways, either. In fact, a portion of the revenues go straight into a Mass Transit Fund that boosts public transportation options. Another portion — best described as a tiny sliver — bankrolls biking and walking projects, too.

After reading Gagnon's piece, Laughlin immediately shot off a letter to the ill-informed — or willfully ignorant — company. He pointed out that millions of Americans are cyclists, pedestrians and trail-lovers, in addition to being motorists. He noted that more than 19,000 miles of trails have been funded through the Trust Fund on a meager budget of just a billion dollars per year. Yes, the Fund is facing a $89 billion shortfall, Laughlin conceded, but picking the already threadbare pockets of non-motorized projects will barely throw dust into that deficit hole.

Robert Darbelnet, president of AAA, was quick to respond to Laughlin’s letter, but didn’t address Laughlin's concerns. Darbelnet didn’t disavow the editorial’s statements. He didn't accept Laughlin's invitation to stand with RTC in calling for a doubling of funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects in the upcoming federal transportation bill. So Laughlin went public with his concern, sounding the alarm to the advocates and professionals gathered at Pro Walk Pro Bike.

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