Surface Transportation:

Moving into the 21st Century

RCED-99-176: Published: May 1, 1999. Publicly Released: May 1, 1999.

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John H. Anderson, Jr
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Office of Public Affairs
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GAO provided information on the surface transportation challenges facing the nation in the 21st century. To understand these challenges and assess the potential direction surface transportation policy could take to address them, GAO sponsored a conference that brought together transportation experts to discuss the future of surface transportation in the United States.

GAO noted that: (1) according to the conference participants, the nation's surface transportation system faces significant demographic, lifestyle, and economic challenges and demands; (2) in the future, busy passengers and businesses will increasingly press for improved transportation services that give them cost-effective means to move themselves and their goods rapidly and reliably through the transportation system; (3) for busy Americans, the car will remain the dominant mode of travel and will continue to be viewed not as a problem but as the solution to their transportation needs; (4) participants characterized Americans' views of cars as faster, safer, more comfortable and flexible, cheaper, and better able to link scattered departure and destination points than other forms of transportation; (5) for the nation's businesses, moving freight quickly through the transportation system will be vital to their survival in a global market that poses unrelenting productivity demands; (6) in addition, commuters, leisure travellers, just-in-time freight shippers, and older travellers all will have different trip patterns and travel needs, thereby placing more complex demands on the transportation system; (7) conference participants urged federal, state, and local policymakers and agencies that are responsible for surface transportation to adopt a new paradigm--one that focuses on the people who use the transportation system, including their needs and expectations; (8) unlike the 20th century mission of constructing the transportation system that exists today, future transportation policies must shift transportation agencies' focus to managing the system for greater efficiency and delivering better services for the users; (9) such focus will require transportation policymakers and agencies to rethink their strategies for achieving transportation goals and to collaborate more extensively with the private sector to meet travellers' complex transportation needs; and (10) these challenges are especially important because transportation and the ability to move goods and people will be vital to the nation's economic survival in a global market.

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