The transportation system is the connective tissue that transforms pockets of communities into a networked society. It links home, school, work, and play. It drives economic growth, social mobility, and employment opportunities. 

    The transportation sector now emits more carbon pollution than any other sector in the US economy. The automobiles we drive, the trucks, trains, and ships that deliver our goods, the airline flights we take, and other transportation activities account for about 28 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions. More than 120 years after electric vehicles briefly achieved popularity in the 1900s, petroleum products still power over 91 percent of today’s transportation system. Americans collectively drive more than three trillion vehicle miles per year, most of those as a single driver in an automobile.

    A climate-safe future requires a swift and just decarbonization of the transportation sector, a major expansion of public and active transportation, and the parallel decarbonization of the electricity sector. 

    Transportation often exacerbates social inequity and racial injustice within and between communities. Its infrastructure speeds the movement of those who are better off, to the detriment of those who are most in need. In far too many communities, governments, planners, and engineers prioritize vehicles over people and efficiency in travel time at the cost of quality of life.4 Choices made by elected officials and transportation agencies about how funds are allocated at the federal, state, and local levels have played a major role in reinforcing these outcomes over the past century. 

   The transportation system thus presents an opportunity to improve the environment and society. As the US Congress considers new legislation in 2021 in the form of a broad-scale climate bill, an infrastructure bill, an additional COVID-19 relief bill, or a reauthorization of the federal surface transportation legislation, it must prioritize expanding the access provided by a safe, comfortable, reliable, and convenient mobility network, and do so in a manner that creates jobs and leads America toward becoming a more sustainable, equal, and healthy nation. And we must advance this domestic agenda in ways that are consistent with climate justice around the world. 

    In this report, we propose a series of critical opportunities for new transportation-related policies to improve equal access, mobility, and opportunity in our transportation system, reduce emissions, support global climate cooperation, and develop long-lasting infrastructure and workforce development strategies on a changing planet. We argue for a shift away from past policies that encouraged the release of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants while furthering social inequity.  

    Instead, the transportation system should be viewed as a strategic lever for investing in good-paying low-carbon jobs, justice, and a decarbonized economy. We build on the important progress Congress members have made through their introduction of bills such as the Moving Forward Act to identify a series of policies that would further that ambition. A new approach to transportation at the federal level is an essential element of the Green New Deal and a mechanism to achieve a lasting recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. To remake the US transportation system into a strategic lever in the fight for climate, economic, and racial justice, the surface transportation reauthorization bill must adhere to the following three goals, which we describe in more detail in the following sections: 

1. Eliminate the use of fossil fuels by vehicles for surface passenger and freight transport, with public-sector electrification complete by 2030, relying on a zero-emissions energy grid. 


  • Allocate $300 billion for the full electrification of publicly owned buses, school buses, cars, trucks, vans, postal vehicles, railroads, sanitation vehicles, and other fleets by 2030. Allocate funds by formula to states, local governments, and special authorities based on population size and existing service provided. The electrification of our transportation system offers an ideal opportunity to create new, clean jobs throughout the country. 

  • Rapidly reduce the use of fossil fuels in privately owned vehicles. Provide universally available funds for bike purchases, with added incentives for e-bikes and companies replacing local freight delivery with cargo e-bikes. Create a a $300 billion Clean Mobility for Clunkers program that enables consumers, along a sliding income scale, to trade in older gasoline vehicles for a credit toward a new or used electric vehicle, an electric bicycle, annual passes for transit or micro-mobility, or a combination of these options. Deploy 10,000 miles of protected bike lanes coupled with green infrastructure. 

  • Rapidly reduce the use of fossil fuels in freight vehicles. Assist freight providers with a transition to electricity. Require 50 percent of new light-duty vehicles sold in the United States to be plug-in electric by 2025, and 100 percent by 2030. Provide substantial new tax credits, low-interest loans, and other assistance to automobile manufacturers to drive production in this sector. Impose similar requirements on taxi and ride-hailing providers. Require 50 percent of deliveries of materiel purchased by the US government to be made by a zero-emissions vehicle by 2025, and 100 percent by 2030. 

  • Decarbonize the transportation sector with a 100 percent clean electric grid by 2030. Require 100 percent clean electricity for federal facility purchases by 2025. Provide grants to assist state and local governments and transit agencies in deploying electric vehicle charging infrastructure.  

2. Reduce the resource intensity of the transportation sector by 2030, with the goal of increasing public transit use five-fold, reducing drive-alone commuting share by a third, and reducing per capita vehicle-miles traveled by 25 percent, all while minimizing the environmentally destructive elements of electrification technology. Encourage the creation of walkable, accessible, transit-oriented communities accessible to all and cease the spread of development onto greenfield areas. 


  • Reduce the total volume of extraction for battery materials in sensitive ecosystems and disadvantaged communities. Subject imported materials and components to the highest standards for labor rights, human rights, and Indigenous rights, as well as for environmental sustainability and emissions. Policies should maximize recycling capacity for lithium-ion batteries and require manufacturers to use recovered materials, as well as incentivize second-life re-use for stationary applications. 

  • End the use of federal infrastructure funding for new highway infrastructure, except for focused opportunities that improve equity. Provide immediate funds for a quick-start infrastructure program for walking and cycling. Vastly expand support for transit and metropolitan network planning. 

  • Appropriate $250 billion over 10 years, or $25 billion annually, in federal funding bill to support transit operations funding throughout the United States.

  • Increase federal support for transit and intercity rail to $400 billion over 10 years, or $40 billion annually, providing funds for new lines, maintenance of existing infrastructure, and upgrades designed for equitable accessibility. 

  • Require metropolitan planning organization voting systems to be proportional to resident population. Mandate adjustments to local zoning policy to enable more dense, affordable housing near transit in exchange for federal aid. Implement regional commuter benefits throughout the nation. 

3. Use transportation policy and programs as mechanisms to develop a more equitable society that ensures system-wide accessibility by 2025 and safe, affordable, and convenient means to travel for all. 


  • Identify all possible paths to work toward a transportation system that is accessible to all, including those with disabilities and those who cannot afford to pay. 

Yonah Freemark, Caitlin McCoy, Rennie Meyers, Thea Riofrancos, Xan Lillehei, Billy Fleming, and Daniel Aldana Cohen
Toward a Green New Deal for Transportation: Establishing New Federal Investment Priorities to Build 
Just and Sustainable Communities