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.

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 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.

Check out our video showcasing our work to bring about better transportation options for America's future.

Issue updates

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

New Study Identifies Twelve of the Worst Highway Projects Across the Country, $24 Billion Wasted

The study details how despite America’s massive repair and maintenance backlog, and in defiance of America’s changing transportation needs, state governments continue to spend billions each year on new and wider highways.

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U.S. PIRG Statement on State of the Union Address

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama came before Congress to give his seventh and final State of the Union address. In his speech, the President highlighted top national priorities and some of the greatest challenges faced by the American people.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection, Democracy, Food, Transportation

State of the Union: Five Things We’ll Be Listening For | Chris MacKenzie

President Obama has hyped his final State of the Union address as a speech that will help to define his legacy. Here's how he can break new ground.

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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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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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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Congress Punts for 33rd Time in Six Years on Federal Transportation Spending, then Leaves Town

 With Congress having just passed another short-term transportation patch to extend current transportation law until the end of July, members left town on recess. The new patch marks the 33rd time in the last six years that Congress has relied upon a short-term extension of prior legislation for transportation funding, rather than find consensus on a long-term bill.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Federal Data Show Rail Travel Almost 20 Times Safer than Driving Highlights Need to Invest in Improved Amtrak

While last week’s tragic Amtrak train derailment has prompted new questions about rail safety, federal data show that intercity rail is among the safest ways to travel.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Congress Should Enable Amtrak to Travel Faster than 100 mph

Statement by John Olivieri, 21st Century Transportation Campaign Director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group on the May 12th Amtrak derailment along a curved stretch of track near Philadelphia. Reports indicate the train was traveling 106 miles per hour on a curve designated as safe for travel at 50 mph.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Amtrak Derailment Highlights Need to Fund Rail and Transit as House Votes to Cut $260 Million in Amtrak Budget

While the exact causes of the Amtrak derailment await further investigation, the tragedy highlights the need for Congress to adequately fund rail and transit. 

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Center for Neighborhood Technology, and Smart Growth America | Transportation

What We Learned From the Stimulus

The latest data on stimulus spending show that funds spent on public transportation were a more effective job creator than stimulus funds spent on highways. In the 10 months since the merican Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was signed, investing in public transportation produced twice as many jobs per dollar as investing in roads.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Written Testimony regarding TIFIA eligibility criteria and offset of subsidy costs

This letter regards proposed changes to the USDOT’s programs created by the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 1998 (TIFIA). We support the proposed adjustments in weighting criteria and would shirt them further. We also support requirements to offset the subsidy cost of directly operating the program and the federal government’s risk‐insuring costs associated with the issuance of TIFIA credit.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Greasing the Wheels

We analyzed two data sets and new information that shine light on the influence of campaign giving on transportation funding decisions at the state and federal level. First the report examines, on a state-by-state basis, how much money was contributed to both federal and state campaigns by highway interests, defined as those from the development, automobile, transportation, and construction sectors.

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Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Getting On Track

Illinois’ transportation system is in trouble. High and wildly fluctuating gas prices add to Illinois residents’ economic woes, traffic congestion wastes valuable time and energy, and our cars and trucks produce pollution that harms Illinois residents’ health and contributes to global warming. Illinois needs a transportation system that meets the needs of the 21st century—one in which public transportation plays an even bigger role than it does today. To get there, we need to start investing now in critical public transportation projects.

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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Arizona’s New Frontier

Over the past few decades, Arizona’s population has skyrocketed. This population growth has not been matched by public transportation investment, and Arizona’s resulting dependence on cars is hurting the state. High and wildly fluctuating gas prices add to Arizonans’ economic woes, traffic congestion wastes valuable time and energy, and our cars and trucks produce pollution that harms Arizonans’ health and contributes to global warming.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Airlines Pushing Bill To Hide True Cost of Airfare | Ed Mierzwinski

After losing its court case to overturn new pro-consumer, pro-competition airfare price disclosure rules, the airline lobby has flown into Congress. Just before the spring recess, a House committee approved a so-called Transparent Airfares Act without benefit of a public hearing. It's a bad idea.

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Video Blog | Transportation

Webinar On "A New Direction" Report

Webinar on the report, "A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America's Future."
 

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Blog Post | Transportation

A Trillion Fewer Driving Miles?

Transportation policy needs to focus on whether the youth-trend toward less driving since 2004 is the new normal.

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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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