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Transit Advocacy

New Poll: Support For Transit Expansion Transcends Rural-Urban Divide

9:01 AM PDT on March 30, 2010

charty.pngHow
respondents replied to the following statement: "My community would
benefit from an expanded and improved public transportation system,
such as rail or buses." (Chart: T4A)

Despite the frequent reluctance
of rural lawmakers to support more federal investment in transit, a
majority of rural and urban voters alike believe their home towns would
gain from a local transit expansion, according to a new poll released
today by the infrastructure reform group Transportation for America
(T4A) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

When
asked if increased transit investment would help their community, 69
percent of poll respondents answered in the affirmative, including 74
percent of suburbanites and 55 percent of rural residents. Those
numbers decreased for a separate question that asked whether transit
should get more federal funding, but a majority of voters from both
suburban (59 percent) and rural (50 percent) areas remained supportive.

The
survey, conducted four weeks ago by pollsters from both GOP- and
Democratic-aligned firms, also sought to gauge public consciousness of
U.S. transportation spending patterns. When respondents were asked what
share of federal transport dollars they thought should go to transit,
the mean answer was 37 percent. Transit's actual share is about 19 percent.

David
Metz of Fairbank Maslin Maullin Metz & Associates, one of two
pollsters who worked on the survey, told reporters that its conclusion
was clear: "Americans want more transportation options than they have
today," he said. "The vast majority of Americans say they have no
choice but to drive as much as they do and that they would like to
drive less."

Lawmakers in the House and Senate have made positive predictions recently about the fate of the six-year transportation bill offered last June in the lower chamber. Indeed, T4A depicted its poll as a valuable messaging tool in the wake of Sen. George Voinovich's (R-OH) extraction of a vow from Democratic leaders to take up long-term infrastructure legislation before 2011.

But
the lack of a sustainable revenue source to pay for that long-term
bill, expected to cost upwards of $450 billion, continues to hamstring
the effort. Few if any observers of the Washington transportation
debate view a new bill as politically feasible in 2010, particularly
given the opposition of both the White House and Congress to increasing the gas tax while the recession still looms.

Should
this month's stirrings of possible momentum for a new bill grow
stronger in recent months, the T4A poll offers green groups,
social-equity advocates, and other pro-reform interests valuable
insights on how to sell voters on a more transit-focused six-year bill.

Given
the option of endorsing several arguments in favor of spending more on
transit and bike-ped infrastructure, survey respondents were most
strongly swayed by a narrative that the pollsters billed as
"Accountability," which was associated with the following statement:
"Government officials must be held accountable for how our
transportation tax dollars are spent. We cannot afford to build more
roads while existing roads are in disrepair."

More than half
of polled voters found the "Accountability" argument very convincing,
with three other narratives -- focusing on greater access for
lower-income populations, the public health upside of bike-ped
spending, and the absence of a 21st-century transportation network --
running behind.

The poll also suggested that voters would be
receptive to a greater reliance on local taxes and fees to leverage
federal transportation funding.

Asked if they would support
a transit expansion in their community that required tax increases, 51
percent of poll respondents expressed either strong or moderate
support, with 46 percent either strongly or moderately opposed. The
share of voters strongly opposed to local taxation for transit (32
percent), however, topped the share that strongly supported those taxes
(24 percent).

The margin of error for the poll, whic surveyed 800 registered voters, was about 3.5 percent.

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