Research ReportResearch Report 10-12

What Do Americans Think About Federal Transportation Tax Options?
Results From Year 2 of a National Survey (PDF 1.2MB)

Principal Investigator: Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Ph.D.


This report summarizes the results of a national random-digit-dial public opinion poll that asked 1,516 respondents if they would support various tax options for raising federal transportation revenues. The 11 specific tax options tested were variations on raising the federal gas tax rate, creating a new mileage tax, and creating a new federal sales tax. In addition, the survey collected standard socio-demographic data, some minimal travel behavior data, and attitudinal data about how respondents view the quality of their local transportation system and their priorities for government spending on transportation in their state. All of this information is used to assess support levels for the tax options among different population subgroups.

The survey results show that a majority of Americans would support higher taxes for transportation—under certain conditions. For example, a gas tax increase of 10¢ per gallon to improve road maintenance was supported by 62% of respondents, whereas support levels dropped to just 24% if the revenues were to be used more generally to maintain and improve the transportation system. Other variants on a gas tax that received at least 50% support were increases of 10¢ per gallon with the revenues dedicated either to projects reducing accidents and improving safety or projects to “add more modern, technologically advanced systems.” For tax options where the revenues were to be spent for undefined transportation purposes, support levels varied considerably by what kind of tax would be imposed, with a sales tax much more popular than either a gas tax increase or a new mileage tax.

A central goal of the survey was to compare public support for two alternative versions of a new mileage tax and eight versions of a gas tax increase. All variations on the two taxes increased support over that for the base case of each (a flat-rate mileage tax of 1¢ per mile and a 10¢ gas tax increase proposed without any additional detail). For example, varying the mileage tax by the vehicle’s pollution level increased support by 14 percentage points. For the gas tax, most notably, dedicating the tax proceeds to maintaining streets, roads, and highways increased support by 38 percentage points.



Dr. Agrawal is the Director of the MTI National Transportation Finance Center and also an Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at San José State University. Her research and teaching interests in transportation policy and planning include transportation finance, pedestrian planning, and urban street design. She also works in the area of planning and transportation history. She has a B.A. from Harvard University in Folklore and Mythology, an M.Sc. from the London School of Economics and Political Science in Urban and Regional Planning, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in City and Regional Planning. For a complete listing of her publications, see


Dr. Nixon is an Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at San José State University. Her research and teaching interests in environmental planning and policy focus on the relationship between environmental attitudes and behavior, particularly with respect to waste management and linkages between transportation and the environment. She has a B.A. from the University of Rochester in Environmental Management and a Ph.D. in Planning, Policy, and Design from the University of California, Irvine.


Team Members: Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Ph.D., Hilary Nixon, Ph.D.
Published: June 2011
Keywords: Transportation taxes, Transportation fees, Public opinion, Gasoline tax, Mileage fees, Highway user taxation, User charges