In today’s day and age, we have no shortage of things to fear. Chinese hackers bugging buses or taking control of rail cars is not one of them.
Yet a provision in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act would ban the use of federal mass transit funds for the purchase of any rail cars and buses that come from manufacturers owned or subsidized by the Chinese government. Proponents of the ban argue that if it’s made by a Chinese company, it’s hackable, and therefore poses a threat to national security. As Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA) has said, “Mak[ing] sure we have viable rail and bus industries,” and that we protect our public transportation systems “from spying and sabotage,” is “in the national interest.”
In the last couple of months, the ban has gained support from the White House, and versions of the proposal have passed both the Senate and the House. Yet this approach would be a massive overreaction to something that is not likely to happen. If passed, then it would harm public transportation agencies in major cities across the United States.
The ban targets two companies in particular: BYD and the China Railway Rolling Stock Corp. BYD is a publicly-traded company that produces electric buses for some of the nation’s largest transit agencies—including the Los Angeles Metro. Despite being Chinese-owned, 60 percent of BYD’s stocks are owned by U.S. investors. CRRC is the world’s biggest railcar manufacturer. It has contracts to build railcars for cities including Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Chicago. It was awarded these contracts through competitive bidding processes, beating out other foreign rolling stock manufacturers.
Since no domestic companies make train cars, the ban could eliminate hundreds of jobs at the factories that these companies have set up in the United States. It would also severely limit the options of transit agencies and could raise the price of production across the country.