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Sixty Two Percent of Americans Prioritize Spending on Roads Over Public Transit

Although most Americans drive their cars to work each day, a sizable amount of policy debate centers on public transportation, especially as cities embark on urban planning. A recent Reason-Rupe poll of 1,200 adults on landline and mobile phones finds that 12 percent of Americans take public transportation at least a few times a week and 63 percent say they never take public transit.

Correspondingly, 62 percent of Americans prioritize transportation funding for roads and highways over funding for public transit. Nevertheless, 30 percent—substantially more than those who frequently use public transportation—would prioritize funding for public transit. However, it is unclear whether those who do not take public transit but want to prioritize its spending would personally use public transit if expanded or if they would just want others to use it to reduce traffic congestion.

When getting specific, a third of Americans say public transit funding should be commensurate with the percentage using it; in other words, government should spend the same amount of money per person who takes public transit as those who take roads. Another third believe government should spend more dollars per person using public transit than individuals using roads. In comparison, 15 percent would spend disproportionally more per person using roads. Among those who frequently use public transit to get to work, nearly half believe that more dollars per person should be spent on those using public transportation than those using roads. In contrast, 33 percent of those who primarily commute on roads and highways would rather government spend more dollars per person using roads.

Americans overwhelmingly believe tax dollars spent on transportation are spent ineffectively (65 percent), whereas only 23 percent believe the money is spent well. Interestingly, there are substantial differences between those who take public transit and roads and perceptions of government wastefulness. Sixty six percent of those who commute on roads believe government spends transportation dollars ineffectively, while only 21 percent disagree. In contrast, 41 percent of public transit users believe government does spend effectively.

Find full Reason-Rupe Q4 2011 poll results, question wording, and methodology here.

The Reason-Rupe Q4 2011 poll collected a nationally representative sample of 1,200 respondents, aged 18 and older from all 50 states and the District of Columbia using live telephone interviews from December 1-13. Interviews were conducted on both landline and mobile phones. The margin of sampling error for this poll is +/- 3 percent.

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  • ||

    "We the people" don't always know what's best for us-look at our average education- that's why this is a representative democracy. We need better transportation all around.

  • Grego||

    Who's "we"? Stop talking like a collectivist. I am an INDIVIDUAL, I know what's good for me. Private transportation such as my car, taxis, and private shuttle companies are good for me because I go where I want and get there when I want (assuming there's not too much traffic).

    Public transportation SUCKS. The seats are uncomfortable, the waiting for the train or bus to arrive is tedious, I have to worry about them closing if I'm staying out late, and unless I live in a city like Chicago or New York, they just don't make sense.

    The reason most Americans favor roads is because most Americans drive cars. It's OUR MONEY that comes from our gasoline taxes, we should have a say on where it goes.

  • John Spragge||

    Will you then pay the full value (rather than the value estimated by governments in eminent domain proceedings) for the additional space your chosen means of transport requires? See

  • Grego||

    John, that article from Tampa Bay is ridiculous. America has always had roads, whether they were dirt roads, stone roads, or asphalt, it's the natural condition of a civilized people to have roads.

    The only mistake we allowed was letting the federal government develop the interstate highway system, that killed the trains more than anything else.

    The solution is to privatize the run, some states are even leasing highways to private companies who manage to operate them at a profit with HOV lanes, tolls, and other devices while providing maintenance without evil union workers.

    Really John, not everything is an either or solution. If you want public transportation, write a business plan, get a group of investors, and start your transportation company. But don't tell me I have to pay higher gasoline taxes so wetbacks can get from point A to point B.

  • ||

    You had a compelling argument until you used a racial slur, pig. I hope you get hit by a bus.

  • Ken||

    This is not rocket science. I don't know the exact numbers, but I estimate that more than 62% of Americans will never have "Public Transportation" close enough to them to be of any real benefit. It will be used casually at best and doesn't represent the best use of the tax payers money.

  • ||

    The big difference between public transit and cars that people miss is how much of the cost is born by the taxpayer vs. the user.
    For cars the taxpayer pays for the roadway. The user pays for the car, the fuel, the driver and the maintenance. Most of the cost is born by the user.
    For transit the taxpayer pays for all of it: the roadbed, the rolling stock, the operator, the fuel and the maintenance. The user pays a very small entrance fee that usually amounts to less than 10% (often less than 5%) of the system cost.
    This means that the cost to the taxpayer for transit is very high compared to cars, even if the per person cost of transit is lower overall. This fact makes building and providing transit politically difficult, because people are (often with good reason) reluctant to trust the government to use their money efficiently to provide a service that they depend on.
    To convince the taxpayer that they are getting bang for buck with transit, you need absolute honesty, education, transparency, tremendous professionalism and efficiency. And you need to provide all of that consistently over a long period of time so that the public believes you when you tell them you need more money.
    Sadly, given the state of government, we are a long ways from getting or deserving that level of trust the taxpayers and the folks who run these systems.

  • John Spragge||

    How many people would support giving roads designed for private cars priority over public transit if the surveys mentioned that the greater space required by private cars meant greater use of expropriation (eminent domain) by governments?

  • ||

    I wonder if the numbers would change much if the question focused on improving bus routes. I have lived in several cities that had, or were planning, expensive and showy light rail systems. Some of them went from where nobody in their right mind lived to where nobody in their right mind wanted to go (I'm looking at YOU Baltimore). Most of them cost a great deal more than was promised, took in much less than was projected, and were used less than the most pessimistic public projections.

    For some reason, Politicians seem to love light rail. The public doesn't. I have to wonder what the numbers of the poll would look like if the question was posed in such a way as to exclude spending on light rail.

  • GHD Kiss Pink IV Styler||

    ask them since they blame Obama for the state of the economy, and expect the unemployed to just get a job out of thin air

  • ski jackets||

    Gingrich Slides But Maintains Slight Lead Among GOP

  • the north face||

    expanded or if they would just want others to use it to reduce traffic congestion