21st Century Transportation

Efficient public transportation like intercity rail and clean bus systems make our transportation system better for everyone by reducing traffic congestion and pollution, and increasing our options for getting around.

Reforming our broken transportation system

Changing Transportation: TexPIRG's series of reports on the dramatic changes underway in how Americans want to get around.

In the 20th century, Americans fell in love with the car. Driving a car became a rite of passage. Owning a car became a symbol of American freedom and mobility. And so we invested in a network of interstate highways that facilitated travel and connected the nation.

Now we're in a new century, with new challenges and new transportation needs. We still love our cars, but we also know they harm the environment around us. Americans want choices for getting to work, school, shopping and more. As lifestyles change, Americans — especially the Millennial generation — are changing their driving and transportation preferences.

We need a transportation system that reflects this century.

Consider:

Public transportation ridership nationwide is hitting record highs. This trend is greatest among younger Americans — who will be the biggest users of the infrastructure we build today. Since the 1950s — despite knowing that buses and rail use far less energy and space — we have spent nine times more on highway projects than on public transportation.

In 2015, more than half of Americans — and nearly two-thirds of Millennials, the country’s largest generation — want to live “in a place where they do not need to use a car very often.” Similar trends exist for older adults. Older adults in general put the creation of pedestrian-friendly streets and local investment in public transportation in their top five priorities for their communities.

By reducing traffic and pollution, and increasing our options for getting around, efficient public transportation systems like intercity rail and clean bus systems would make America’s transportation future better for everyone.

But America also needs to repair and maintain its current aging infrastructure. Nearly 59,000 of the nation’s bridges are classified as “structurally deficient.” Instead of building newer and wider highways that will only make America more dependent on dirty fossil fuels, we need to be smart in how we invest in roads, and fix them first.

The good news is that the public is in many ways ahead of Congress in leading the way toward reform. Help us make sure our decision makers recognize the need to invest in a 21st century transportation system.

Check out our video showcasing our work to bring about better transportation options for America's future.

Issue updates

News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

Senate Transportation Bill Misses Opportunity for Historic Change

The Senate bill falls far short of the kind of decisive progress that America’s transportation system needs. America’s beleaguered transportation system is ailing and needs new direction for the 21st century, especially to become less dependent on oil. While this bill has some good provisions, it does not step up to the task. It contains some half measures and a few meaningful fixes, as well as real missteps that we hope will be addressed.

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG | Transportation

Caution: Red Light Cameras Ahead

Privatized traffic law enforcement systems are spreading rapidly across the United States. As many as 700 local jurisdictions have entered into deals with for-profit companies to install camera systems at intersections and along roadways to encourage drivers to obey traffic signals and follow speed limits.

> Keep Reading
Media Hit | Transportation

Dallas Observer: Latest Red Light Camera Study Questions the System's Financial and Safety Perks

The report, Caution: Red Light Cameras Ahead, examines private companies' agreements with municipalities (about 700 throughout the country) in states that allow automated traffic law enforcement. "Contracts between private camera vendors and cities can include payment incentives that put profit above traffic safety," the report says.

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG | Transportation

High-Speed Rail: Public Private or Both?

Private sector companies are likely to play a major role in the construction of high-speed rail lines in the United States. Public-private partnerships – or “PPPs” – have come to play an important role in the construction of high-speed rail lines around the world.

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

Report Examines Whether High-Speed Rail Should Be Public, Private or Both

A first-of-its-kind report released today examines whether high-speed rail should be public, private or both. The research report released by TexPIRG examines the experience with public-private partnerships for high-speed rail in other countries.  In addition to outlining the promises and pitfalls, the report recommends ten principles to protect taxpayers and the public under private financing deals.

> Keep Reading

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

TexPIRG Suspends Support For SB 17

On Tuesday, March 31, 2009, the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG) released a statement supporting SB 17. Like others, upon our initial reading of SB 17, it appeared that the bill would create strong public safeguards against bad private toll road deals for the citizens of Texas. We have since noticed a particular clause in the bill that would create a loophole for the Texas Department of Transportation (TX DOT).

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

Study of Private Roads Shows Signs for Caution

A major new report released today identifies problems in a national trend toward private toll roads. The study, Public Roads, Private Costs: The Facts About Toll Road Privatization and How to Protect the Public, examines 15 completed private road projects and 79 others that are proposed or underway.

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

TexPIRG calls on TxDOT to slow down on stimulus spending

A diverse group of anti toll-road activists, environmentalists, and public transportation activists from across Texas converged at the State Capitol to demand that Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) halt a plan to approve $1.7 billion in new highways without providing proper public review. The groups call on TxDOT, which is poised to approve the stimulus funding at their meeting on Thursday, to slow down and make sure that these transportation dollars are spent wisely.

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

TexPIRG Calls on Governor Perry to Lead by Example as He Heads for NGA Meeting in Washington DC on Building a Sustainable Infrastructure

As Governor Perry prepares for the National Governors Association (NGA) Winter Meeting this weekend, TexPIRG today sent a letter calling on him to lead by example in creating jobs that fulfill those goals right here in Texas.

> Keep Reading
Media Hit | Transportation

Dallas Morning News: Texas lawmakers to weigh private road deals against tax increases

 Two years ago, lawmakers went to war with Gov. Rick Perry over his push to privatize Texas toll roads, but their efforts to stop the idea largely failed. As they return Tuesday to launch the 2009 legislative session, lawmakers will be faced with a choice of either raising taxes – which both Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst have called a bad idea – or giving private companies a greater role in paying for, and operating, a fast-expanding network of toll roads.The two-year moratorium on private road deals that passed in 2007 slowed but didn't kill Perry's plan to privatize toll roads. Construction on one project is set to begin soon in Austin, and private firms are readying bids in Dallas, Tarrant and other counties across Texas.

 

> Keep Reading

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Blog Post

Walkers and bikers are getting killed at alarming rates -- at a time when we need this type of transportation more than ever. 

Blog Post

The soot and smog spewed by cars and trucks affects all of us. And we all have a part to play in the solution.

Media Hit

Like many American cities, Houston is encircled by rings of highways—nine major radial freeways, three ring freeways, and a 180-mile fourth outer ring on the way.

But Houston isn’t just encircled by roads, it’s symbolically, and literally, being choked by cars. It’s consistently ranked as a top city for traffic congestion, ninth-worst for ozone pollution according to the American Lung Association, and a tragic nexus for deaths from car crashes. The annual death toll, according to the Houston Chronicle, is equivalent to “three fully-loaded 737s crashing each year at Houston’s airports, killing all aboard.”

According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the solution is more roads, specifically, a multiyear, multibillion dollar project to widen and expand the city’s highway infrastructure in an attempt to ease persistent bottlenecks that clog downtown traffic.

 

This isn’t a small upgrade: in the name of accelerating commutes, the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP) will widen and rebuild nearly 25 miles of highways in the city’s downtown, expanding some to be as wide as the length of two football fields. In addition to years of construction, the “Texas-sized” expansion would displace four houses of worship, two schools, 168 homes, 1,067 multifamily units, and 331 businesses that account for just under 25,000 employees, impacting mostly people of color in low-income neighborhoods.

It would add more impermeable concrete and asphalt infrastructure, plus future maintenance costs, to a city that is still recovering from some of the worst floods in recent memory. Resilience is a serious concern post-Harvey, and as flood maps are updated as flood risks evolve, the addition of concrete to the landscape could make the next storm’s impact worse. Houstonians still recall how highways became channels of water that cut off neighborhoods from aid during the worst of the flooding.

To critics, the I-45 project, named after the main highway that will be impacted, is an urban renewal reboot, a modern version of the freeway expansion projects that wrecked neighborhoods and divided cities in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Why would more urban highways and lanes of traffic—especially at a time when many cities are actively removing or capping their highways—be a foregone conclusion in any effort to mitigate Houston’s serious congestion problem?

Blog Post

Dear Chair Patman,

We write you today to urge METRO to transition its buses to a clean, all-electric fleet.

We applaud the work METRO employees do every day, safely carrying thousands of people, including many who cannot or do not wish to drive, to work, school and more. METRO buses and light rail are playing a critical role in reducing traffic and air pollution. Furthermore, we appreciate the efforts METRO has taken to convert buses to hybrid technology, limit idling, and initiate an electric bus pilot program. 

However, most METRO buses are still powered by diesel—a dirty fossil fuel that gives off toxic emissions—endangering the health of the people who ride them and contributing to global warming. 

The good news is we have the technology to start building cleaner, healthier cities and neighborhoods. Dramatic declines in battery costs and improvements in performance, including expanded driving range, have made electric buses a viable alternative to diesel-powered and other fossil fuel buses. 

Replacing all of METRO’s diesel-powered transit buses with electric buses could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 43 million pounds each year. 

Electric buses can also be more affordable than fossil fuel buses in the long run, since they have 30 percent fewer parts, no exhaust systems, their braking systems last longer, and they don’t require oil changes or fossil fuels. Over the lifetime of the bus, an electric transit bus can avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in operating costs over an equivalent diesel or natural gas bus, from lower fuel and maintenance costs. 

We urge you to no longer purchase any more diesel buses. Putting new diesel buses on the road today will pollute our city for at least twelve more years. Instead, as buses are ready to be retired, please replace them with clean electric ones.

The Houston region is receiving $32 million from the Volkswagen Settlement funds, but that money is yet to be dispersed. This is a great opportunity for METRO to start transitioning to clean electric buses. 

 

We look forward to working with you to one day give all Houstonians the opportunity for a “whisper-quiet, green ride.”

Media Hit

A massive remake of Interstate 45 from downtown Houston north to the Sam Houston Tollway that would be among the largest road projects in the region’s history also is one of the nation’s biggest highway boondoggles, according to an updated list released Tuesday.

The North Houston Highway Improvement Project — the umbrella term for the entire $7 billion-plus plan to remake Interstate 45 — is listed in the latest installment of unnecessary projects compiled by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Frontier Group. Nine projects across the country made the 2019 list, the fifth annual report from the two groups that have argued for greater transit investment.

“We believe that to fix congestion problems we need to take cars off the road,” said Bay Scoggin, director of the TexPIRG Education Fund, a subset of the national group. “We could do far better investing $7 billion in public transit.”

Transportation | U.S. PIRG

2018 was the deadliest year for cyclists since 1990

Seventeen pedestrians and two cyclists were killed every day, on average, in traffic crashes in 2018. PIRG Transform Transportation Campaign Director Matt Casale explains that cyclists face a dilemma: walking or biking are convenient and pollution-free modes of transportation, but they're also dangerous in a world that's been built car-first.

 

Transportation | U.S. PIRG

Get on the electric bus

A look at six early adopters of electric buses

 

Transportation | U.S. PIRG

Volkswagen settlement scorecard

Volkswagen was caught cheating emissions laws and settled with federal authorities. The settlement included nearly $3 billion for the Environmental Mitigation Trust. How well does our state rank on plans for investing VW mitigation trust funds in clean transportation projects?

 
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