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New Poll: Support For Transit Expansion Transcends Rural-Urban Divide

8:13 AM PDT on March 31, 2010

charty.pngHow
respondents replied to the following statement: "My community would
benefit from an expanded and improved public transportation system, such
as rail or buses." (Chart: T4A)

Despite the frequent
reluctance
of rural lawmakers to support more federal investment in
transit, a majority of rural and urban voters alike believe their home
towns would gain from a local transit expansion, according to a new poll
released by the infrastructure reform group Transportation for
America (T4A) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

When asked if increased transit investment would help their
community, 69 percent of poll respondents answered in the affirmative,
including 74 percent of suburbanites and 55 percent of rural residents.
Those numbers decreased for a separate question that asked whether
transit should get more federal funding, but a majority of voters from
both suburban (59 percent) and rural (50 percent) areas remained
supportive.

The survey, conducted four weeks ago by pollsters from both GOP-
and Democratic-aligned firms, also sought to gauge public consciousness
of U.S. transportation spending patterns. When respondents were asked
what share of federal transport dollars they thought should go to
transit, the mean answer was 37 percent. Transit's
actual share
is about 19 percent.

David Metz of Fairbank Maslin Maullin Metz & Associates, one of
two pollsters who worked on the survey, told reporters that its
conclusion was clear: "Americans want more transportation options than
they have today," he said. "The vast majority of Americans say they have
no choice but to drive as much as they do and that they would like to
drive less."

Lawmakers in the House
and Senate
have made positive predictions recently about the fate of the six-year
transportation bill offered
last June
in the lower chamber. Indeed, T4A depicted its poll as a
valuable messaging tool in the wake of Sen. George Voinovich's (R-OH) extraction
of a vow from Democratic leaders to take up long-term infrastructure
legislation before 2011.

But the lack of a sustainable revenue source to pay for that
long-term bill, expected to cost upwards of $450 billion, continues to
hamstring the effort. Few if any observers of the Washington
transportation debate view a new bill as politically feasible in 2010,
particularly given the opposition
of both the White House and Congress to increasing the gas tax while
the recession still looms.

Should this month's stirrings of possible momentum for a new bill
grow stronger in recent months, the T4A poll offers green groups,
social-equity advocates, and other pro-reform interests valuable
insights on how to sell voters on a more transit-focused six-year bill.

Given the option of endorsing several arguments in favor of
spending more on transit and bike-ped infrastructure, survey respondents
were most strongly swayed by a narrative that the pollsters billed as
"Accountability," which was associated with the following statement:
"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."

More than half of polled voters found the "Accountability" argument
very convincing, with three other narratives -- focusing on greater
access for lower-income populations, the public health upside of
bike-ped spending, and the absence of a 21st-century transportation
network -- running behind.

The poll also suggested that voters would be receptive to a greater
reliance on local taxes and fees to leverage federal transportation
funding.

Asked if they would support a transit expansion in their community
that required tax increases, 51 percent of poll respondents expressed
either strong or moderate support, with 46 percent either strongly or
moderately opposed. The share of voters strongly opposed to local
taxation for transit (32 percent), however, topped the share that
strongly supported those taxes (24 percent).

The margin of error for the poll, which surveyed 800 registered
voters, was about 3.5 percent.

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