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New Poll: Americans support investment to increase transportation choices, favor expanding transit over building new roads

Memo on national poll findings: http://docs.nrdc.org/energy/files/ene_12090401a.pdf

PowerPoint slides on poll results: http://docs.nrdc.org/energy/files/ene_12090402a.pdf

WASHINGTON (September 12, 2012) – Three out of four Americans are frustrated with the lack of transportation options that forces them to drive more than they would prefer, according to a new nationwide public opinion survey released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). According to the poll results, two out of three support government investment in to expand and improve public transportation and twice as many people favor new transit – buses, trains and light rail – rather than new highways as the best way to solve America’s traffic woes.

“Americans hate traffic and love transit,” said Peter Lehner, NRDC’s executive director. “Investing in public transportation eases congestion but for too long most federal funding has limited people’s choices, leaving them sitting in traffic.”

The survey of 800 Americans was conducted this summer by a bipartisan team — Public Opinion Strategies, which conducts polling for Republican candidates, and Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, which specializes in polling for Democratic candidates. The nationwide telephone survey was preceded by focus groups in Charlotte, N.C., Raleigh, N.C., Philadelphia, Pa., and Cleveland, Ohio.

Americans broadly agree that the current transportation system is in need of major change:

  • 59 percent feel the transportation system is “outdated, unreliable and inefficient”
  • 55 percent prefer to drive less, but 74 percent say they have no choice
  • 58 percent would like to use public transportation more often, but it is not convenient or available from their home or work

Most Americans want more transportation options – and rank improved public transportation and better planning as some of the best ways to get them.

  • 59 percent would like more transportation options so they have the freedom to travel other than by driving
  • 63 percent (more than three in five Americans) would rather address traffic by improving public transportation (42 percent) or developing communities where people do not have to drive as much (21 percent) – as opposed to building new roads, an approach preferred by only one in five Americans (20 percent)
  • 64 percent say their community would benefit from an expanded and improved public transportation system, such as rail and buses
  • 67 percent favor setting new standards for local planning that guide new development into existing cities and or near public transportation

Americans understand that an improved transportation system will cost money – and are willing to pay for it.

  • Americans over-estimate what their state spends on public transportation, estimating that it is an average of 16 percent of their state’s transportation budget – and still they would like that amount nearly doubled, calling for their state to spend an average of 28 percent on public transportation (note: The average percentage of transportation money – state plus federal – spent on transit over the past three years was 6.55 percent per state)
  • 68 percent support more local investment in improvements to public transportation (including 63 percent of those who do not use transit), with 39 percent supporting it “strongly”

“Transit ridership in the U.S. is at an all-time high in decades and even more people would use it if they could. Many believe Americans are in love with their cars, but most are frustrated with the lack of options for adequate, reliable public transit service," said Larry Hanley, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, the largest labor organization representing transit workers in North America.  "This poll clearly shows that taxpayers are willing to put their money where their mouth is – backing increased spending to make better public transportation a reality. Legislators should take note that public transit is not only a wise investment in our economy, but also a winning political position for people regardless of their party affiliation.” 


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.


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