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

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.”

> Keep Reading
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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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Ditching diesel isn’t just good for public health and the environment -- it’s affordable

Press Conference Today with an Electric Bus! Come get some great pictures and a ride on a fantastic electric bus. 2910 E. 5th St. Austin, TX. 78702

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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.”

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

As Electric Cars Revolutionize the Vehicle Market, New Study Helps Cities Address Infrastructure and Parking Challenges

With electric vehicles (EVs) hitting U.S. streets in record numbers, a new study by TexPIRG Education Fund, Environment Texas Research and Policy Group, and Frontier Group highlights best practices to help local officials make their cities as EV-friendly as possible. The new report, “Plugging In: Readying America’s Cities for the Arrival of Electric Vehicles,” includes local and state data for Dallas and Texas about the projected number of electric cars expected on the road in coming years, and how cities can accommodate these new EVs with enough places to park and recharge.

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

Austin Environmental Leaders Call for Bold Change in CodeNEXT to Stop Sprawl and Protect the Environment

AUSTIN, TEXAS — A group of prominent local environmental advocates is calling upon Austin’s leaders to adopt a CodeNEXT that promotes the compact and connected development necessary to stop sprawl, reduce car-dependency and protect Austin’s environment as the city continues to grow.

“Austin’s current Land Development Code actively encourages low-density, sprawling development that consumes more energy, water and land than compact urban development, while also generating more greenhouse gas emissions,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “There is no environmental case to be made for sprawl.”

 

“It’s a real chance to decongest our roadways. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the stop start traffic to and from work every day,” says Bay Scoggin, Director of the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG). “A compact city is a more connected, walkable city, and if we continue to invest in public transportation, we have a real opportunity to grow our city in a way that works for everyone, because let’s be real, nobody likes traffic.”

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News Release | Transportation

Highway Administration Reinstates Clean Air Rule In Response to Lawsuit

In a victory for climate and clean air, the Federal Highway Administration responded to a lawsuit brought by U.S. PIRG, NRDC, and the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Clean Air Carolina by reinstating a federal requirement that state and local planners track and curb carbon pollution from cars and trucks on the national highways, which is a major contributor to climate change.

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News Release | Transportation

In Response to Lawsuit, Highway Administration Reinstates Transportation Clean Air Rule

WASHINGTON (Sept. 25, 2017) – In a big win for climate and clean air, the Federal Highway Administration today responded to a lawsuit brought by environmental groups by reinstating a federal requirement that state and local planners track and curb carbon pollution from cars and trucks on the national highways, which is a major contributor to climate change.

On July 31st, TexPIRG’s national affiliate, U.S. PIRG, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Clean Air Carolina, sued the Federal Highway Administration for illegally suspending, earlier in the year, the federal transportation greenhouse gas rule advanced by the Highway Administration under the Obama administration.

 

Today’s action means that federal officials can continue working with local and state transportation agencies across the country to hammer out smarter, more effective transportation plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that harm both public health and the environment. They face a first compliance deadline of October 2018.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

TRANSPORTATION IN TRANSITION

Americans’ transportation habits have changed. The average American drives 7.6 percent fewer miles today than when per-capita driving peaked in 2004.
 

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A New Way to Go

America is in the midst of a technological revolution … and a big shift in our transportation habits.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Moving Off the Road

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A New Direction

The time has come for America to hit the “reset” button on transportation policy—replacing the policy infrastructure of the Driving Boom years with a more efficient, flexible and nimble system that is better able to meet the transportation needs of the 21st century.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Transportation and the New Generation

From World War II until just a few years ago, the number of miles driven annually on America’s roads steadily increased. Then, at the turn of the century, something changed: Americans began driving less. By 2011, the average American was driving 6 percent fewer miles per year than in 2004.

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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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Blog Post | Transportation

Pulling a FAST one on our Transportation Future | Sean Doyle

For the first time in a decade, and after roughly three dozen short-term extensions, Congress has pulled together and passed a transportation-funding law lasting longer than two years. There is only one problem: the new law is the wrong deal for the country.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Millennials Want More Public Transportation | Sean Doyle

A new poll shows that access to public transportation is “very important” for Millennials in considering where to live and where to work.  The results support our research over the past few years that found Millennials are driving less than older generations and are more prone to walk, bike, or take transit to get where they need to go.

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Blog Post | Transportation

How Deadly are Your State’s Roads? | Sean Doyle

A new report by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute shows which states have the safest and most dangerous roads.  Here's how the states rank and what we can do about it.

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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.”

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.”

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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