MTI Report 09-18

Research ReportWhat Do Americans Think About Federal Transportation Tax Options? Results From a National Survey

Principal Investigator: Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Ph.D.


This report summarizes the results of a national random-digit-dial public opinion poll that asked 1,545 respondents if they would support various tax options for raising federal transportation revenues. The eight specific tax options tested were variations on raising the federal gas tax rate, creating a new mileage tax, and creating a new national sales tax. In addition, the survey collected standard socio-demographic data and some travel behavior data and asked a few attitudinal questions related to the quality of the transportation system and respondents´ priorities for government spending on transportation. These questions were used to assess support levels for the tax options among different population subgroups.

None of the tax options achieved majority support, but three did fairly well, with support levels around 40%. These were a 0.5¢ sales tax (43% support), a 10¢ gas tax increase with revenue to be dedicated to projects that would reduce the transportation system´s impact on global warming (42% support), and a 10¢ gas tax increase spread over five years (39% support).

The report also compares public support for alternative versions of the mileage and gas taxes. The base cases tested against alternatives were a flat-rate mileage tax of 1¢ per mile and a 10¢ gas tax with no additional information given about the tax. All variants of these base cases increased support levels, in most cases significantly. Varying the mileage tax by the vehicle´s pollution level increased support by 12 percentage points. For the gas tax, all four alternatives to the base case received higher support. Most notably, spreading the gas tax increase over five years increased support by 16 percentage points, and linking the increase to global warming reduction increased support by a full 19 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 Jose 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 at Berkeley in City and Regional Planning. For a complete listing of her publications, see


Dr. Nixon is an Assistant Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at San Jose State University. Her research and teaching interests in the field of environmental planning and policy focus on the relationship between environmental attitudes and behavior, particularly related 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 at Irvine


Authors: Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Ph.D. & Hilary Nixon, Ph.D.
Published: June 2010
Keywords: Transportation taxes, Transportation fees, Public opinion, Gas tax, Mileage fees, Highway user taxation, User charges