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

Blog Post | Transportation

Our 'Driving into Debt' report highlights the impact of risky auto loans and car ownership

Talk about a captive market: For most of us, it's next to impossible to work, shop or go to school without a car. Auto lenders are taking full advantage.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Austin's CapMetro board approves vision plan to electrify transportation

If the CapMetro board gets its way, the future of Austin's public transit system will be electric.

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

CapMetro approves vision plan with electric future

AUSTIN -- Today, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (CapMetro) Board of Directors voted to approve a vision plan for the future of Austin’s public transportation. The vision plan, part of “Project Connect,” instructs CapMetro staff to begin the process of adding several new transit services, as well as make a plan to electrify all the new routes proposed by the vision plan. Two new routes for high capacity are included in the plan, as well as multiple new routes of "bus rapid transit light", to denote semi-dedicated right of way.

“The plan approved by the CapMetro Board today is a huge win for the public interest, and we applaud the agency for its leadership,” said Bay Scoggin, director of the non-profit advocacy group Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG). “Austin needs affordable options that connect our communities to jobs, schools, health care and so much more. CapMetro’s move today will help us get out of traffic, and on board with efficient, clean and healthy transportation options.”

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

Advocates Call for DISD to Lead on Electric Buses

Advocates, including electric vehicle, public health, consumer, and environmental groups, are calling for DISD to hold off on such a major investment in diesel, citing the Volkswagen Settlement money as a special opportunity to make an investment in new, cleaner technology. Further, Researchers at TexPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group say that the potential fuel and maintenance cost savings of $150,000 over each electric bus' lifetime can save the district millions if they are willing to invest now.

 

“We know that DISD is working their tails off to take over for Dallas County Schools, and in light of the opportunities available, we hope DISD will put their best foot forward towards a zero-emissions bus fleet that protects our children’s health, saves the district money, and improves our climate,” says Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Director.

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

TexPIRG Statement on TCEQ’s Volkswagen Settlement Spending Plan

Today, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality released the state’s Volkswagen Beneficiary Mitigation Plan, which will allocate funds to expand clean transportation in the state.  After the public comment period, the TCEQ made several promising changes to their original draft, released earlier this year. In addition to increasing the transparency of the fund distribution process, the final version of the plan increased the percentage of costs covered for government-owned vehicle replacement from 60% to 80%. This increase will make it easier for transit agencies to invest in zero-emission all-electric buses, helping improve public health and air quality. The new plan increased funding to certain cities like Dallas and Austin, while El Paso and San Antonio saw their share of the funding reduced.

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Media Hit | Transportation

VW settlement plan falls short of Houston’s pollution share

As Texas plans to spend the $209 million awarded by the Volkswagen "Dieselgate" scandal, TexPIRG Director Bay Scoggin is quoted as being "concerned" about the plan released late last week. While the money heading towards Electric Vehicle Infrastructure is great, there is a troubling lack of details about how the money is to be spent. Bay had this to say in the Houston Chronicle article:

“The lack of clear guidelines for the competitive process … leads to problematic uncertainty on whether communities or gas corporations will benefit,”

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

Texas' Volkswagen Mitigation Plan "Concerning"

AUSTIN -- In a plan released yesterday, the Governor’s Office and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) proposed spending the $209 million dollars the state of Texas received from the Volkswagen, “Dieselgate,” scandal on “fuel-neutral” buses, trucks, and other vehicles, while opting in to the full 15% made available for electric vehicle infrastructure.  

The plan states that money will be determined on a “first come, first serve” basis.

As a secondary measure, TCEQ cites cost-effectiveness as a key determinant in what it calls the “competitive process,” to receive funding for a project. A corresponding table shows that trucks, which are predominantly supplied by natural gas options, are by far the most cost-effective-- roughly 10 times more so than school buses.

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

TexPIRG denounces federal proposal to stall Clean Car Standards

AUSTIN -- The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration today proposed rolling back the “Clean Car” fuel economy standards, which, if fully implemented, could eliminate more than 2 billion metric tons of emissions and save consumers significant money at the gas pump.

 

On top of these regressive effects, the proposal would deny states the right to create their own more efficient fuel standards,

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Texas Interstate 35 Expansion Makes National List of Highway Boondoggles, Will Cost $8 Billion

AUSTIN-- A new report by TexPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group identifies nine of the most wasteful highway expansion projects across the country, slated to collectively cost at least $30 billion. Making the list of national highway boondoggles is the proposed “Interstate 35 Expansion” in Austin, Texas being pushed by local officials. In total, the plan would cost $8.1 billion to add four new lanes to I-35 through Austin.

 

“I drive every week on I35, I know it's bad, but we need to solve our transportation problems with solutions that work, not waste money on the type of highway projects that should be in our rearview mirror,” said Bay Scoggin, director of TexPIRG Education Fund. 

The report finds that previous road expansions in Texas have failed at reducing congestion and this expansion is no different. “Look to the Katy Freeway project in Houston,” said Scoggin. “Widening the highway to 26 lanes failed to improve congestion and actually worsened travel times.”

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Electric Buses Drive Healthier Communities

AUSTIN -- If CapMetro transitioned its entire fleet of 512 transit buses to all-electric vehicles, it could significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions each year and reduce toxic air pollution that creates a public health hazard. A new report from TexPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group, “Electric Buses: Clean Transportation for Healthier Neighborhoods and Cleaner Air,” shows that a full transition to electric buses in Austin could avoid an average of 22,644 tons of climate-altering pollution each year -- the equivalent of taking 4,371 cars off the road. 

“There’s no reason we should be running dirty, polluting buses in our communities when we have better, cleaner options,” said Scoggin, state director of TexPIRG Education Fund. “Our research shows that whether commuters are on the bus or boarding the bus, they’re exposed to toxic air in high concentrations, while simultaneously, diesel contributes to global warming.”

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Who Pays for the Road

Many Americans believe – erroneously – that the money they pay in gasoline taxes and other “user fees” covers the cost of building and maintaining our streets and highways. In fact, local roads and bridges are almost always paid for through local property taxes, while the share of the nation’s highway construction and repair bill paid by gas taxes has been dwindling over time. Since 2008, the federal government has diverted $52 billion in general tax revenue to the Highway Trust Fund – more than the nation has spent to subsidize Amtrak in its entire 42-year history.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

The Innovative Transportation Index

This report reviews the availability of 11 technology-enabled transportation services – including online ridesourcing, carsharing, ridesharing, taxi hailing, static and real-time transit information, multi-modal apps, and virtual transit ticketing – in 70 U.S. cities. It finds that residents of 19 cities, with a combined population of nearly 28 million people, have access to eight or more of these services, with other cities catching up rapidly.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Millennials in Motion

Millennials are less car-focused than older Americans and previous generations of young people, and their transportation behaviors continue to change in ways that reduce driving. Now is the time for the nation’s transportation policies to acknowledge, accommodate and support Millennials’ demands for a greater array of transportation choices.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles

Even though the Driving Boom is now over, state and federal governments continue to pour vast sums of money into the construction of new highways and expansion of old ones – at the expense of urgent needs such as road and bridge repairs, improvements in public transportation and other transportation priorities. Eleven proposed highway projects across the country – slated to cost at least $13 billion – exemplify the need for a fresh approach to transportation spending.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A New Course

Universities and colleges across the country are taking steps to encourage their communities, students, faculty and staff to decrease their reliance on personal vehicles. These efforts are working well – saving money for universities, improving the quality of life in college towns, and giving today’s students experience in living life without depending on a personal car.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Good Things Come to Those On Bikes | Sean Doyle

Pull the bike out of the closet, pump up those tires, and dust off the helmet because it's Bike to Work Week!

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Blog Post | Transportation

Don’t Believe the Hype – Millennials’ Transportation Habits Are Changing | Sean Doyle

Despite news stories claiming that Millennials are buying up cars at record rates, the reality is quite different. After adjusting previous studies to account for differences in the size of the generations measured, on a per-capita basis, Millennials are 29 percent less likely than members of Generation X to own a car.

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Blog Post | Transportation

All Americans Deserve Clean Air to Breathe, On Earth Day and Every Day | Sean Doyle

U.S. DOT asks if we should measure global warming pollution from transportation.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Owning Fewer Cars Isn’t Just For Millennials | Sean Doyle

New transportation options are making it easier for people to use transit more, own fewer cars, and even save money on transportation.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Red Light for Highway Boondoggles | Sean Doyle

Across the country, states are poised to spend billions of dollars on wasteful highway projects -- new construction and expansions -- exhausting limited funds that could be better spent on repair and maintenance or put toward critical investment in transit, biking, and pedestrian options that better meet current and future needs.

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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.”

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund

Despite boasting one of the most extensive highway systems of any city in the country, Houston is planning to spend $7 billion on the “North Houston Highway Improvement Project.” According to a new report from TexPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group, the project would expand I-45 through the middle of Houston, displacing homes and dividing communities.

“The fundamental law of road congestion is that if you build it, they will come,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Education Fund director. “More highways means more cars, so policymakers are living in a ‘Field of Dreams’ if they think this project will reduce congestion.”

“To improve Houston’s transportation system, we have to reduce our reliance on cars and highways,” Scoggin continued.  “This project does the opposite, doubling down on a car-centric system that will lead to more traffic, pollution and sprawl.”

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund

America’s aging roads and bridges need fixing. Our car-dependent transportation system is dangerous, harms our communities, and is the nation’s leading source of global warming pollution. And more than ever before, it is clear that America needs to invest in giving people healthier, more sustainable transportation options.

Yet year after year, state and local governments propose billions of dollars’ worth of new and expanded highways that often do little to reduce congestion or address real transportation challenges, while diverting scarce funding from infrastructure repairs and key transportation priorities. Highway Boondoggles 5 finds nine new budget-eating highway projects slated to cost a total of $25 billion that will harm communities and the environment, while likely failing to achieve meaningful transportation goals.

Highway expansion costs transportation agencies billions of dollars, driving them further into debt, while failing to address our long-term transportation challenges.

·         Highway expansions are expensive and saddle states with debt.

o   In 2012, the latest year for which data is available, federal, state and local governments spent $27.2 billion on highway expansion projects – sucking money away from road repair, transit, and other local needs.

o   From 2008 to 2015, the highway debt of state transportation agencies nearly doubled, from $111 billion to $217 billion.

o   New roadway is expensive to maintain, and represents a lasting financial burden. The average lane mile costs $24,000 per year to keep in a state of good repair.

·         Highway expansion doesn’t solve congestion.

o   Expanding a highway sets off a chain reaction of societal decisions that ultimately lead the highway to become congested again – often in only a short time. Since 1980, the nation has added more than 800,000 lane-miles of highway – paving more than 1,500 square miles, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island – and yet congestion today is worse than it was in the early 1980s.

·         Highway expansion damages the environment and our communities.

o   Highway expansion fuels additional driving that contributes to climate change. In 2017, transportation was the nation’s number one source of global warming pollution.

o   Highway expansion can also cause irreparable harm to communities – forcing the relocation of homes and businesses, widening “dead zones” alongside highways, severing street connections for pedestrians and cars, and reducing the city’s base of taxable property.

News Release | TexPIRG

AUSTIN -- Sens. Kamala Harris, Jeff Merkley, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Tina Smith, Diane Feinstein and Catherine Cortez Masto introduced a bill Thursday aimed at helping local school districts transition to all-electric transportation. The bill sets up a federal grant program, authorizing $1 billion over five years for grants of up to $2 million per school district, to replace diesel school buses with electric school buses, invest in charging infrastructure, and support workforce development.

Over 25 million American children, and roughly 3 million Texas children, as well as thousands of school bus drivers, breathe polluted air on traditional diesel yellow school buses every day. Diesel pollution stunts the growth of kids’ lungs and worsens asthma symptoms, and has also been linked to poorer academic performance.

Bay Scoggin, the Director of the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG), issued the following statement:

“Our kids shouldn’t have to breathe dirty, dangerous air just to get to school. As the negative health impacts of long-term exposure to diesel exhaust become clearer, the need to move to zero-emission school buses becomes more urgent. We applaud and endorse this proposal, because it will help protect the health of America’s children.

“Texas can look at this as a model and expand the Texas Clean School Bus Program, which currently has only $6.1 million, despite requests for funding exceeding $11.5 million. TexPIRG applauds the Legislature’s decision to draw down the balance of the Texas Emissions Reduction Program (TERP), and we hope to see a sizable portion of those moneys directed to such a successful public health and clean air endeavor.”

“The possibility of these two programs working in conjunction is the commitment we need to clean up our air and address climate change. We have to electrify our transportation system as quickly as possible. And given that air pollution has disproportionate health effects on children, there is no better place to kickstart that transition than with school buses. The Clean School Bus Act will help school districts get the resources they need to ensure that every child has healthy air to breathe and a safe ride to school.”

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U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.

TexPIRG is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety or well-being.

Blog Post

For all of us who rely on our roads and public transit, and our water, sewage and power systems, the agreement reached by President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders in May to commit $2 trillion to infrastructure should be good news.

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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