MTI Report 12-01

Research Report What Do Americans Think About Federal Tax Options to Support Public Transit, Highways, and Local Streets and Roads? Results from Year 3 of a National Survey (PDF 1.4MB)

Principal Investigator: Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Ph.D.


This report summarizes the results of a national random-digit-dial public opinion poll that asked 1,519 respondents if they would support various tax options for raising federal transportation revenues, with a special focus on understanding support for increasing revenues for public transit. Eleven specific tax options tested were variations on raising the federal gas tax rate and creating a new mileage tax, and creating a new federal sales tax. Other questions probed various perceptions related to public transit, including knowledge and opinions about federal taxes to support transit. In addition, the survey collected data on standard socio-demographic factors, travel behavior (public transit usage, annual miles driven, and vehicle fuel efficiency), and attitudinal data about how respondents viewed the quality of their local transportation system and their priorities for government spending on transportation in their state. All of this information was 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 58 percent of respondents, whereas support levels dropped to just 20 percent if the revenues were to be used more generally to maintain and improve the transportation system. 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.

With respect to public transit, the survey results from all three years show that most people want good public transit service in their state. However, the 2012 questions exploring different methods to raise new revenues found relatively low levels of support for all of them. Also, large minorities of respondents did not know that all levels of government— local, state, and federal—support transit. The federal government was the least widely recognized source of support.


Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Ph.D.

Dr. Agrawal is the Director of the MTI National Transportation Finance Center and also an Associate Professor and Chair of Urban and Regional Planning at San José State University. Her research and teaching interests in transportation policy and planning include transportation finance, pedestrian and bicycle planning, and 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

Hilary Nixon, Ph.D.

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.

Vinay Murthy

Vinay Murthy is an independent researcher who has worked for several academic and nonprofit research programs, including the Survey + Policy Research Institute and the Urban Strategies Council. His research interests in transportation policy and planning include the relationship between transportation infrastructure, housing affordability, and local economic resiliency. He has a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, in American Studies and a Master of Urban Planning from San José State University.


Authors: Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Ph.D., Hilary Nixon, Ph.D. and Vinay Murthy
Published: June 2012
Keywords: Public opinion, Highway user taxation, Public transit, Fuel taxes, User charges