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: U.S. PIRG's series of reports on the dramatic changes underway in how Americans travel.

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

To Build A 21st Century America, Start Here | Jeff Robinson

The stakes in the current infrastructure debate are high. But what matters most is not the size of any federal infrastructure package, nor how it is financed, nor even how many jobs it creates in the coming years. What matters most is building the infrastructure that will enable America to respond to the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

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News Release | Tax, Transportation

U.S. PIRG Response to 2018 State of the Union Address

President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address touched on a lot of topics crucial to the American way of life. Unfortunately, he omitted many of the most important topics facing our country today: consumer protection, threats to food safety and threats to our democracy. And on the important issues he did discuss, such as infrastructure and the economy, he offered 20th century solutions to 21st century problems.

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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 | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

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

In a big win for climate and clean air, the Federal Highway Administration today responded to a lawsuit brought by U.S. PIRG, NRDC, and SELC on behalf of Clean Air Carolina by reinstating a federal rule requiring state and local planners to account for 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

Groups Sue Trump Admin. for Risking Americans’ Health by Suspending Transportation Clean Air Safeguards

The Trump administration put Americans’ health at risk by abruptly suspending a federal safeguard intended to curb a major source of climate-changing emissions, the pollution from cars and trucks on the national highways, according to a lawsuit filed today. The Natural Resources Defense Council, U.S. PIRG, and the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Clean Air Carolina, are suing the Federal Highway Administration for illegally suspending the clean air standard this year, and are seeking its immediate reinstatement.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Statement: Why U.S. House's Focus on Tax Compliance for Transportation Funding Is Better than Proposals for Discounted Repatriation of Offshore Profits

Statement on this week’s House Plan to Fund the Highway Trust Fund Through the End of the Year

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Wisconsin Legislature Rebuffs Gov. Walker by Refusing Highway Mega-Expansion and Requiring Audit of Inaccurate Forecasts and Wasteful Projects

After weeks of debates that largely centered on the future of transportation spending in the state,  the Wisconsin state legislature last night passed a budget for the upcoming biennium. In a strong rebuke of Governor Scott Walker, the new budget does not give the go-ahead to the controversial expansion of Interstate 94.

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News Release | US PIRG | Transportation

Pope Francis Elevates Public Transportation in Fight vs. Global Warming

Last week, Pope Francis took the unusual step of releasing a 192-page letter, known as an Encyclical, to senior church officials. The Pope’s Encyclical calls for greater reliance on public transportation and criticizes over-reliance on driving as a prime cause of global warming pollution.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

U.S. PIRG Statement: Until Ways & Means Solves Transportation Funding, Stop Building New Highways

At tomorrow's Ways and Means hearing on funding for transportation, Chairman Ryan should declare a pause to federal funding of new highway lanes until Congress figures out a long-term fix to fund transportation. 

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News Release | US PIRG | Transportation

Highway Expansion Projects Stall Under Growing Scrutiny

As part of a pattern of costly highway expansion proposals stalling under increased scrutiny, a federal court in Wisconsin made history last week by forbidding the use of federal dollars to build a highway because no need had been demonstrated. The court put an abrupt halt to Governor Scott Walker’s plans to spend $146 million widening state Highway 23, holding the project ineligible for federal funding. The court cited inadequate evidence in state travel forecasts or recent traffic counts, adding doubt whether other highway expansion proposals around the country are really needed.

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Report | TexPIRG | Budget, Transportation

Six Public Interest Principles for Considering Private Toll Roads in Texas

Plans for the state of Texas to sign concession deals for privately operated toll roads present a number of dangers for the public interest. Giving long-term control of our roads to a private operator and granting them future toll revenues is a huge commitment that should not be taken lightly. Regardless of whether a deal is with a public or private operator, no concession should be approved that fails to uphold any of six basic principles.

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Report | NJPIRG | Budget, Transportation

Caution on New Jersey Turnpike and Parkway Deal

A deal to “monetize” the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway should not be signed if it violates the public interest. No deal should be approved that fails to uphold any of six basic principles: public control, fair value, no deal longer than 30 years, state-of-the-art safety and maintenance standards, complete transparency and accountability, and no budget gimmicks.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Five Factors Will Determine Whether TIFIA Will Fund Transit

"TIFIA," the federal transportation loan program was super sized in the recent transportation law. New rules make the program even more of a slush fund for private toll roads, while others provide possibility for long-overdue public transit expansion. This blog appeared in slightly condensed form at StreetsBlog.

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Blog Post | Transportation

New TIFIA Rules Will Hurt the Public

This commentary, cross-posted on the National Journal Transportation Expert blog, explains why the new rules for the greatly expanded federal transportation loan program will encourage private toll roads at the expense of transit and everything else because it ignores the important indirect costs and benefits of transportation investments.

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Blog Post | Tax, Transportation

Senate Transportation Bill Stretches Dollars by Ending Hidden Subsidies and Cracking Down on Tax Dodgers

The Senate transportation bill doesn't transform the way America invests in transportation, but it finds some good ways to save money and increase performance within an austerity budget

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Blog Post | Transportation

House Transportation Bills Strikes First as Tragedy, Then as Dangerous Farce

The House introduced additional legislation proposing that new revenue for the Transportation Fund would come through increased volumes of oil drilling and that public transit would be kicked out of the transportation fund. This breaks with three decades of public transit being supported by a small portion of the federal gas tax. The House measure would instead funnel all these funds to highways, and leave mass transit to search for new money from Congress at a time when debt reduction rules require massive cuts to the general budget. If you were trying to make America as addicted to oil as possible, you might design legislation like this.

 

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Blog Post | Transportation

Private High-Speed Rail: A Dangerous Fantasy

The politics of high-speed rail can be bizarre. Few people actually oppose connecting our cities with fast intercity trains. Most of the industrialized world has already shown that the idea is popular and works well. The politicians that do the most to prevent high-speed rail generally claim to be fans of bullet trains who just want the task to be left to the private sector.

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News Release | MASSPIRG

Today, nearly all of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s (MBTA) buses run on fossil-fuels, contributing to global warming and health-harming air pollution. That could soon change: the Massachusetts State Senate is considering a bill requiring that the MBTA purchase only electric buses starting in 2030 and that all MBTA buses be electric by 2040.

News Release | U.S. PIRG

New Jersey set a new benchmark today in addressing the nation’s number one source of global warming emissions: transportation. Gov. Phil Murphy signed a groundbreaking electric vehicle bill into law that offers a clear roadmap for state houses and governors nationwide to tackle climate change.

Blog Post

State transit agencies and school districts are leading the way.

Blog Post

In 2019, Norway's capital city of Oslo experienced zero deaths on its roads. In 2020, American cities should resolve to take the steps to end roadway deaths as well. 

News Release | U.S. PIRG

Consumer, public health and voter advocacy -- often from the national nonpartisan group U.S. PIRG and its affiliates -- moved the ball forward at the state level in 2019. 

Transportation

12 states just announced plans to transform our transportation system

Transportation is the single largest source of carbon emissions in the U.S.—but Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, D.C., just released a plan to change that, called the Transportation Climate Initiative.

 

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 your state rank on plans for investing VW mitigation trust funds in clean transportation projects?

 
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