21st Century Transportation

Efficient public transportation systems like intercity rail and clean bus systems would make America’s transportation future better for everyone by reducing traffic congestion and pollution and increasing our options for getting around.

Advancing transit infrastructure for our future

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 they remind us of our dependence on foreign oil. Americans want choices for getting to work, school, shopping and more. With gas prices up and lifestyles changing, Americans — especially the young — are driving less.

We need a transportation system that reflects and supports the way we want to travel now.

Consider:

For six decades, the number of miles driven by Americans was on the rise year after year after year. Since 2004, Americans reversed the trend and have been driving less. Meanwhile, public transportation ridership nationwide is hitting record highs. This trend is greatest among younger Americans — who will be the biggest users of infrastructure built 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. 

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 our current aging infrastructure. Nearly 70,000 of the nation’s bridges are classified as “structurally deficient.” Instead of building ever-wider roads that will only make America more dependent on oil, we need to be smart in how we invest in highways, 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 government recognizes our need to invest in a 21st century transportation system.

Issue updates

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Data Shows One out of every Nine Bridges in America Remain Structurally Deficient on Eve of Obama Bridge Speech

With President Obama calling for robust investments in repairing America’s crumbling roads and bridges today, State PIRGs released data today documenting the number of “structurally deficient” bridges in seven states.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Obama: Put People to Work Rebuilding America

President Obama was right to call for bold new investments in our outdated transportation infrastructure. Fixing our roads and building new railways won’t just put thousands of unemployed construction workers back to work now; it will allow America to meet the demands of a competitive 21st century economy.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

President Obama Calls for Smart Infrastructure Investment to Create Jobs

Statement of U.S. PIRG Tax and Budget Associate Dan Smith on President Obama’s Rose Garden address on infrastructure and job creation.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Private High-Speed Rail: A Dangerous Fantasy | Phineas Baxandall

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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Report | U.S. PIRG | 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. The experience with high-speed rail PPPs, however, has been mixed. While PPP arrangements have brought private capital and expertise to the task of building high-speed rail, PPPs have also resulted in cost overruns, government bailouts, and other serious problems for the public.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget, Transportation

Finding Solutions to Fund Transit

The public need and demand for transit will grow sharply in the future and transportation funding must become better targeted to future needs. This paper explains why lawmakers should turn to new dedicated revenues to provide long-term solutions while increasing market efficiency and reducing social costs. Legislators should avoid short-term band aids from the general budget or one-time gimmicks such as road privatization.

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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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