MTI Report 12-51
What Do Americans Think About Federal Tax Options to Support Public Transit, Highways, and Local Streets and Roads? Results from Year Six of a National Survey (PDF 1.3MB)
Principal Investigator: Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Ph.D.
This report summarizes the results of year six of a national random-digit-dial public opinion poll asking 1,503 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, creating a new mileage tax, and creating a new federal sales tax. Other questions probed perceptions related to public transit, including knowledge and opinions about federal taxes to support transit. In addition, the survey collected data on standard sociodemographic factors, travel behavior (public transit usage, annual miles driven, and vehicle fuel efficiency), and respondents’ views on 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 71% of respondents, whereas support levels dropped to just 31% if the revenues were to be used more generally to maintain and improve the transportation system. For tax options in which 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 show that most people want good public transit service in their state. In addition, two-thirds of respondents supported spending gas tax revenues on transit. However, questions exploring different methods to raise new revenues found relatively low levels of support for raising gas tax or transit fare rates. Also, not all respondents were well informed about how transit is funded, with only half knowing that fares do not cover the full cost of transit.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Ph.D.
Dr. Agrawal is the Director of the MTI National Transportation Finance Center and also 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, bicycle and pedestrian planning, and travel survey methods. 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.
Hilary Nixon, Ph.D.
Dr. Nixon is 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 holds 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.
Authors: Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Ph.D. and Hilary Nixon, Ph.D.
Published: June 2015
Keywords: Transportation fees, Public transit, Public opinion, Gasoline tax, Highway user taxation