21st Century Transportation Updates

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Texas receives "D" grade for Volkswagen settlement spending plan

When it comes to clean transportation, Texas got a “D” for underutilizing funds from Volkswagen’s nearly $3 billion settlement with federal authorities, according to a new report card from U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Environment America Research & Policy Center.

After Volkswagen was caught three years ago violating emissions standards in 590,000 cars marketed as “clean diesel,” the German automaker agreed to create an “Environmental Mitigation Trust” to be distributed across all 50 states (along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Texas got its grade because the funds were made available for dirty fuels like compressed fracked gas, with no extra decision criteria for zero emissions vehicles.

“The Volkswagen settlement gave Texas the opportunity to make huge strides in the essential transition to a cleaner and healthier electric transportation system,” Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Director said. “It’s deeply disappointing that there’s a lot of good is coming out of how some states are spending this money -- but we are not going nearly far enough.”

Texas placed near the bottom of states overall. The report gave only 15 states a C or better for money-spending policies that increase access to electric vehicle charging and bolster electric school and transit bus fleets. Fourteen states, along with Puerto Rico, received a failing score.

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Blueprint for Tomorrow

INFRASTRUCTURE IS AT THE HEART of America’s greatest challenges. The infrastructure investments made by generations past have contributed to improved health and welfare, and to the nation’s unparalleled economic prosperity. But the infrastructure decisions of the past have also cast a long shadow, leaving America to deal with the burden of lead water pipes that jeopardize our children’s health, fossil fuel pipelines that contribute to global warming, and transportation and solid waste infrastructure that no longer serve today’s needs.

It is time for a bold, new vision for federal infrastructure policy – one that focuses attention on the 21st century’s toughest challenges, from ensuring safe drinking water for all Americans to addressing global warming, which threatens to change American life as we know it. The nation’s infrastructure policy is an opportunity to undertake the challenge of building a better world.

It is also time for a new approach to federal investment in infrastructure – one that’s less focused on creating ribbon-cutting opportunities and maximizing the number of jobs and is more attentive to getting the most benefit out of every dollar spent.

By focusing federal policy on unleashing high-value investments in critical areas – and resisting the temptation to spend resources on counterproductive boondoggle projects – the Trump administration and Congress can leave a lasting infrastructure legacy that will be remembered by future generations.

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Report: Roadmap for a stronger, more sustainable American infrastructure

Three years after candidates from both parties made infrastructure a key presidential campaign issue, it’s finally the long-awaited “infrastructure week.” Democratic congressional leaders and the White House announced two weeks ago that they would commit $2 trillion to the cause. But a new report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group cautions that before allocating that money, our elected officials need to determine which investments will alleviate the most dire problems America faces as a result of crumbling or outdated infrastructure -- climate change, pollution and threats to public safety.

“Deciding how much to spend before deciding what to spend it on puts the cart before the horse,” said Andre Delattre, senior vice president for program at The Public Interest Network, which includes the three groups that wrote the report. “If Congress and the Trump administration avoid the temptation to spend indiscriminately and instead develop a bold new infrastructure vision, we have the opportunity to give our children and grandchildren a stronger, healthier and more sustainable future.”

News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

Capital Metro makes Earth Day Announcement

Today, Capital Metro announced its plan to build a new, first of its kind, electric bus charging facility. The new facility, stationed off Burnet at the transit agencies’ northern depot, will be capable of charging over 200 buses, roughly half of the current size of the fleet.

Advocates like the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG) and the Texas Electric Transportation Resources Alliance (TxETRA) applauded the move.

“What an exciting Earth Day announcement,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Director. “Investing in infrastructure at this scale shows the deep commitment that Cap Metro has for a sustainable transportation future. Cleaner, healthier, and money-saving, electric buses are a win-win-win for the transit agency and everyone in the Austin metro area.”

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Questionable lending drives Texas to nation’s highest auto debt

The amount of money Texans owe on their cars is now at an all-time high  -- up 75 percent since the end of 2009 to $6500 per capita, the nation’s highest. Americans’ rising indebtedness for cars raises concerns about the financial future of millions of households as lenders extend credit to more and more Americans without the ability to repay, according to a new TexPIRG Education Fund report.

“Texans deserve both protection from predatory and unfair practices in auto lending, and a transportation system that provides more people the freedom to live without owning a car,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Director. “Texans shouldn't have to fight their way through a thicket of tricks and traps at the auto dealer just to get the transportation they need to get to work or school."

Access to a car is all but required in much of America to unlock opportunities for work, education and play. But the financial cost to households is steep: Transportation is the second-leading expenditure for American households, behind only housing.  

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Driving Into Debt

In much of America, access to a car is all but required to hold a job or lead a full and vibrant life. Generations of car-centric transportation policies – including lavish spending on roads, sprawl-inducing land use policies, and meager support for other modes of transportation – have left millions of Americans fully dependent on cars for daily living.

Car ownership is costly, and often requires households to take on debt. In the wake of the Great Recession, Americans rapidly took on debt for car purchases. Since the end of 2009, the amount of money Americans owe on their cars has increased by 75 percent. A significant share of that debt has been incurred by borrowers with lower credit scores, who are particularly vulnerable to predatory loans with high interest rates and inflated costs.

Americans’ rising indebtedness for cars raises concerns for the financial future of millions of households. It also demonstrates the real costs and risks imposed by our car-dependent transportation system. Americans deserve protection from predatory loans and unfair practices in auto lending. Americans also deserve a transportation system that provides more people with the freedom to choose to live without owning a car.

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

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.”

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.

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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