Former US Representative and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Jim Oberstar (D-MN) died in his sleep Friday night. He was 79.
In the transportation sector, Mr. Oberstar was world renown for his expertise regarding transportation issues and advocacy for public infrastructure investment to spur private growth. Mr. Oberstar was a champion of “intermodality,” the idea of linking the nation’s air and rail systems with urban buses, subways and bicycle paths.
Mr. Oberstar was also a friend of the Machinists Union.
“Jim Oberstar was a true friend of the IAM and an expert in transportation issues,” said General Vice President Sito Pantoja. “Mr. Oberstar stood with IAM members, whether fighting for fair contracts in the airlines and railroads, or during our representation battles during airline industry consolidation. He accurately predicted the negative effects of airline consolidation, which continue unabated to this very day. He was a visionary and will be missed.”
“We cannot allow the reduction of the airline industry to three large carriers,” wrote Mr. Oberstar in a letter to the Department of Justice opposing the United-Continental merger. “There will be less service and fares will rise.”
Since the merger of Delta-Northwest and United-Continental-Continental Micronesia, Mr. Oberstar’s predictions have come to pass: average fares have risen by 23 percent since 2009 and former hubs such as Cincinnati, Memphis, Cleveland, among others, have been downsized resulting in less air service and employee reductions.
Mr. Oberstar also saw the future of the US airline industry and predicted the American-US Airways tie-up.
“If the United-Continental transaction goes forward, American Airlines, which until the Delta-Northwest merger was the largest US carrier, will likely feel strong pressure to merge,” wrote Oberstar. “US Airways, the only remaining medium-sized network carrier and frequent subject of prospective consolidation activity, is a likely target.”
James L. Oberstar was the son of a miner and served for 36 years in the US House of Representatives. He is survived by his wife, four children and eight grandchildren.