The study found relatively strong support for public transportation. In response to the question "which of the following proposals is the best long-term solution to reducing traffic in your areas" the results were as follows:
- Improve public transportation (49%)
- Develop communities where people do not have to drive as much (26%)
- Build new roads (21%)
The respondents clearly favored improved fuel efficiency over increased taxes as a way to reduce energy use. When asked if they strongly approved of the following solutions to climate and energy problems, they responded:
- Regulate the car industry to make vehicles more efficient (74% strongly approve/90% total approve)
- Provide improved public transportation (62%/88%)
- Require homes and other buildings to be more energy efficient (62%/88%)
- Build communities where people can walk places so that people can use their cars less (49%/83%)
- Increase taxes on gasoline to discourage driving (8%/16%)
When is comes to land use, 81% said they preferred that new housing and commercial development be placed in already developed areas rather than continuing to build suburbs on the edge of existing suburbs (14%). When it comes to more specifics, 61% favored limits on new home construction in outlying areas and investment in very urban areas, 57% said they favor building businesses and homes closer together, within walking distance (57%) and to shorten commutes (55%).
Respondents strongly opposed (72%) privatization of existing public roads and using toll concessions to private companies to build new roads (52%). Total oppose percentages were 84% and 66%, respectively.
Interestingly, the percentage of respondents who strongly approved charging tolls on more roads if the result was better roads and reduced traffic congestion (26%) almost matched the percentage of people of who strongly disapproved (33%). In all, 55% approved of tolling and 44% disapproved. In the Great Lake states, the approval rate was 58% and the disapproval rate only 41%.
What to make of these numbers? The percentage of people strongly approving of tolls (26%) was over three times as high as those who strongly approved of an increase in the gas tax (8%). Some of all of the difference might be how the questions were phrased. People were asked if they supported a gas tax to reduce driving or tolls to improve highways and reduce congestion. Perhaps the approval rate would be higher for the gas tax if respondents had been asked if they supported such a tax if it resulted in better roads and reduced congestion.
Nevertheless, the results suggest more public support for--or at least tolerance of--tolling than for gas taxes. This is too bad in at least one respect. It is much cheaper to collect gas taxes than it is to collect tolls.
Another interesting finding is the relatively strong public support for using toll revenue on transportation uses other than the toll highway on which the tolls are collected. When asked whether they approved of spending toll revenue on the following uses, the respondents responded as follows:
- Toll money would be spent on maintaining all roads (48% strongly approve/77% total approve)
- Toll money would be spent on public transportation as well as roads (41%/70%)
- Toll money would be spent only on building and maintaining the toll roads (26%/47%).
Despite some significant support for tolling, the respondents were less enthusiastic about congestion pricing. When asked if they supported charging tolls to reduce congestion during rush hour 47% strongly opposed the idea and only 20% strongly supported the idea. In all only 37% supported the idea and 61% opposed the idea. When asked if they favored congestion pricing if the money were spent on transportation alternatives to the highway, the strongly opposed percentage dropped from 47% to 35% and the strongly support percentage went from 20% to 26%. The public was evenly split--49% to 49% on whether they approved or disapproved of congestion pricing if proceeds were used to support travel alternatives.
For me the most surprising result was the level of support for (a) concentrating investment in existing built-up areas and restricting greenfield sprawl and (b) higher fuel economy limits. The level of support for tolling and "diverting" toll revenue from toll roads to other uses was also surprising, especially in light of the reluctance to embrace congestion pricing.
Is there a common theme in these results? If I had to pick one it is that policies or rhetoric that appear designed to reduce use of roads (e.g., gas taxes and to lesser extent congestion pricing) are disfavored while policies that do not seem intended to restrict freedom but may nonetheless raise the cost of driving (e.g., road tolling, increased fuel economy standards) are more heavily supported.