New Poll Finds that People Hate Traffic, Love Transit

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 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.

At a press briefing this morning, NRDC's Executive Director Peter Lehner put it plainly: “Americans hate traffic and love transit."

He added that, “Investing in public transportation eases congestion but for too long most federal funding has limited people’s choices, leaving them sitting in traffic.”

UPDATE: Press coverage of our poll in The Hill, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Philadelphia InquirerCharlotte Business JournalCharlotte Observer,, Mass Transit Magazine, Metro Magazine, Columbus Business First, and The Morning Call.  And my favorite is Streetsblog, which highlighted this important aspect of our survey findings:

Despite a very polarized environment on Capitol Hill when it comes to transit, there’s no pronounced partisan divide in the real world. (See chart above.) Sure, liberal Democrats are nearly five times more likely to want transit than new roads, and conservative Republicans are only 70 percent more likely to want transit – but in the end, they all tend to think transit is the way to go.

The same goes for the urban/rural split. Yes, more big city residents want public transit (50 percent) than new roads (15 percent). But even in rural areas, 36 percent say transit versus 24 percent who want roads.

"These numbers help explain the overwhelming success of transit ballot initiatives, even when those votes involve a new or increased tax. So far this year, these initiatives have an 89 percent success rate.

"While Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists believe transit investment and smart growth policies are all an elaborate UN plot, and even the Republican platform now states that Democrats are trying to force us all into “government transit,” this poll gets at the truth. It shows that across the board, most Americans are aware that road-building is not the way to handle growth. It also indicates that there could be significant public support for reforming our highway-skewed transportation policies and restoring sanity to the system, in order to give people the choices they want."

Our survey of 800 Americans was conducted over the 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.

Find NRDC's memo on the transportation poll findings here and the PowerPoint slides on poll results here.

Summary Poll Findings

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”

Joining our press briefing was Larry Hanley, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union -- the largest labor organization representing transit workers in North America. 

"Transit ridership in the U.S. is at an all-time high in decades and even more people would use it if they could.," Mr. Hanley noted. "Many believe Americans are in love with their cars, but most are frustrated with the lack of options for adequate, reliable public transit service."

NRDC's new 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.

As Peter Lehner pointed out in his own blog, investing in public transit is also a proven job creator, generating twice as many jobs per billion as new highway construction.

"More transit means building better communities, a stronger economy, and a healthier environment," Lehner added. "It means more choice and more freedom for commuters, and less power to the oil monopoly. It is what Americans demand, and it is what we deserve--and it is time for Congress to deliver." 

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