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

Report | TexPIRG | Transportation

Paying for Electric Buses

Most of America’s school and transit buses run on diesel, a highly-polluting fuel, but there is a better option. All-electric buses are here, and they’re cleaner, healthier and save money for transit agencies, school districts and bus contractors to run in the long-term. Diesel is internationally recognized as a dangerous carcinogen, and diesel exhaust contributes to several respiratory illnesses, including asthma. Children are particularly susceptible to the negative health effects of diesel exhaust because their lungs are still developing.

> Keep Reading
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
Blog Post | Transportation

The Trump Administration’s Flawed Reasons for Rolling Back Clean Car Standards | Matt Casale

The Trump administration is making some pretty outlandish claims to justify its roll back of the nation’s most effective program at fighting climate change. Asserting that stronger fuel economy standards make our roads less safe, the administration moved last week to weaken Obama-era clean car standards -- but their claims just aren’t true.

> 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.

> Keep Reading
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 | Transportation

Dallas City Council set to cancel Trinity Parkway Toll Road

DALLAS—The Dallas city council is expected to vote this week to officially cancel the Trinity parkway project, scheduled to cost $1.5 billion dollars. TexPIRG released the following statement.

“Americans are driving less. Investing $1.5 billion in a road that would neither reduce congestion nor connect people is exactly the type of highway boondoggle that we describe in our report,” said Bay Scoggin, director of the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG), referencing a report that you can read here.

“Now more than ever, we need to invest in rapid transit opportunities that connect citizens to the areas that they work and shop, that de-congest our crowded roadways, and that maintain and improve the air we breathe.” 

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

NEW REPORT FINDS $209 MILLION IN VOLKSWAGEN SETTLEMENT FUNDS HEADED TO TEXAS COULD HELP ACCELERATE ALL-ELECTRIC TRANSPORTATION REVOLUTION

A new report from the USPIRG Education Fund finds that $209million from the Volkswagen (VW) settlement is headed to Texas to help clean up the country’s transportation system and strongly recommends using the funds to purchase electric vehicle fast charging stations for highways along with an aggressive expansion of all-electric transit buses to replace aging, dirty, diesel buses. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S.PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay, Transportation

Framework for VW Settlement Announced

Statement by Mike Litt, Consumer Program Advocate at U.S. PIRG Education Fund, on todays announced VW settlement. For more details on what a strong settlement agreement ought to look like, please see the open letter that we released earlier this week with other consumer and environmental groups.

> Keep Reading
Media Hit | Transportation

12 of America's Biggest Highway Boondoggles

Given that expanding highways at great public cost doesn’t improve rush-hour traffic, there are better ways to spend this money, argue report authors Jeff Inglis of Frontier Group and John C. Olivieri of U.S. PIRG. They identify a dozen road projects, costing $24 billion in all, that are “representative” of the problem.

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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
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
Report | TexPIRG | Transportation

Property Rights Protection Act (PRPA)

The Property Rights Protection Act (PRPA) is genuine eminent domain reform and provides property owners in Texas with much-needed protections from profit-driven eminent domain for private gain. PRPA guards landowners from wrongful takings and ensures property owners that they will be fairly compensated for their land. It provides the people of Texas with strong safeguards to defend themselves against unlawful condemnations.

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG | Transportation

Do Roads Pay for Themselves?

Highway advocates often claim that roads “pay for themselves,” with gasoline taxes and other charges to motorists covering—or nearly covering—the full cost of highway construction and maintenance.

They are wrong.

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG | Transportation

Road Work Ahead

Over the last 50 years, America has built roads and bridges at a pace and scale that dwarfs most of the rest of the world. We’ve built a national highway network like no other, with more than 45,000 miles of interstate highway and 575,000 highway bridges.

> Keep Reading

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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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