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77 Percent of Americans Oppose Gas Tax Increase, 58 Percent Favor Tolls Instead

As the number of people using roads and highways steadily increases, cars have also become more fuel-efficient, thus reducing the amount of gas purchased per person. This is good news for consumers; however, transportation spending is largely funded from gasoline taxes, and those receipts are decreasing. The recent Reason-Rupe poll asked Americans how they would prefer to fund transit going forward.

Gas Tax

Policymakers have considered increasing the federal gas tax, currently 18.4 cents per gallon in efforts to close the spending-funding gap. Yet 77 percent of Americans oppose raising the federal gas tax. Part of the aversion may be a concern that the government will not spend the tax dollars effectively—65 percent of Americans think the government generally spends transportation funding ineffectively.

Toll Roads and Toll Lanes

Rather than tax increases, the poll found that 58 percent prefer paying for new roads and highways by paying tolls when they drive on the roads. Interestingly, another 58 percent of Americans also report there are not toll roads in their area, but 59 percent say they would pay to use a toll lane if governments constructed them and if these lanes would save them time in traffic. This indicates governments are failing to meet demand for toll roads while focusing efforts on other ways to raise revenue and reduce congestion. These findings suggest that policymakers’ attention may need to shift to meet demand for toll roads.

Public-Private Partnerships

Governments are also considering partnering with private companies to build and expand highways, airports, and other infrastructure projects that they might not be able to afford without the efficiency and expertise of the private sector. Thus in addition to raising revenues, governments are also seeking opportunities to reduce costs for roads. However, some are uneasy with private companies building and operating transportation, as they believe this is a role for government. Nevertheless, 55 percent of Americans favor private-public partnerships while 35 percent oppose.

Opening HOV Lanes

Another opportunity to raise revenue and potentially reduce congestion is to open high occupancy vehicle lanes (HOV), previously reserved for carpools, to single drivers who pay a toll. Some point out that this not only can raise revenue, but also offer drivers a faster trip when they need it. However, others point out that lower-income families would be less able or willing to pay the tolls, making this policy unfair. The Reason-Rupe poll found that 57 percent favor opening HOV lanes to toll-paying drivers and 35 percent oppose.

Adjustable Toll Lanes

Another plan governments are considering is to charge adjustable tolls on new toll roads and lanes. Instead of charging the same fee, the tolls would be higher during rush hours and lower when traffic is light. However, 50 percent of Americans oppose this proposal and 39 percent favor it.

Policy Proposals to Reduce Transportation’s Spending-Funding Gap

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.

Follow Emily Ekins on Twitter @emilyekins

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  • Lewis||

    It's good to hear that people are so open to tolling, especially in light of the recent backlash against the I85 HOT lanes conversion in Atlanta.
    I recently made a website about road pricing with animated explanations and interview clips from Reason's Adrian Moore. www.priceroads.com. I bet a lot of Reason readers would like it.

  • Blacksmithking||

    How about cutting some spending, instead? Or take all the money for roads and spend it on...roads?

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    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

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