America wants more public transit

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By Brian O'Malley
Central Maryland Transportation Alliance

A new national poll indicates that federal transportation spending is out of line with voters’ preferences. Final validation for what Central Maryland Transportation Alliance has been saying: Registered voters in rural, suburban, and big city locations across the U.S. want to see increased spending on public transportation.

The survey, entitled “Future of Transportation,” was conducted in February and March 2010 on behalf of the Transportation For America campaign. 800 registered voters were contacted by telephone with a margin for error of +/- 3.46 percent.

The results indicate a clear preference for increased spending on public transportation. When respondents were asked to guess how much of each federal dollar spent on transportation goes to public transportation such as trains, rail, ferries and buses, the average response was 19 cents. The correct answer is 17 cents. A majority (58 percent) said that should be increased.

In fact, when asked how much should be spent on public transportation the average response was 37 cents on the dollar, or more than double the current portion.

There is not an urban versus rural or big city versus suburbs divide. A majority in rural communities say that more of federal transportation spending should go to public transportation. Majorities in suburban, big city, and small town locales hold the same view.

The poll also tells us something about why people want increased spending on public transportation. Increasing transportation choices emerged as a primary motivating factor in a series of the survey’s questions that probe attitudes and rationales. 66 percent strongly agreed that they would like more transportation options for themselves.

When asked to react to a list of potential outcomes of improved and expanded public transportation, walking and bicycling options, respondents reacted most favorably to a statement about low-wage workers, seniors, and the disabled getting around more easily. The next most favorable reaction was to statements about people in general having more transportation choices. Respondents reacted less favorably to statements about less tangible benefits such as reduced emissions or less direct benefits such as improved health.

Support for improving public transportation also held up when the subject of taxes and fees was raised. A majority (51 percent) support increased taxes or fees to expand and improve public transportation in their community. This finding echoes the Building America’s Future poll of January 2009. That study, championed by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, found that 81 percent of Americans are prepared to pay a 1 percent increase in taxes to rebuild infrastructure.

Also, like the Building America’s Future respondents in 2009, the registered voters in the 2010 Future of Transportation survey said that accountability for transportation spending is key.

When asked to respond to a series of messages about transportation spending, the Future of Transportation respondents found the following message most convincing: “Government officials must be held accountable for how our transportation tax dollars are spent. We cannot afford to build more roads while existing roads are in disrepair.”

Click here to read a more in-depth summary of the survey results.

Brian O'Malley is director of transportation policy & research for the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance. He is no relation to Governor O'Malley.
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