Government Issues

Americans support gas tax hike, spending revenue on public transit, survey says

Posted on April 30, 2015

Americans are willing to pay increased taxes at the gas pump if the revenue is invested in specific transportation improvements, according to the results of a new Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) national telephone survey. These results indicate that Americans would likely support proposed federal legislation for funding transportation infrastructure.

The Mineta survey was directed by Asha Weinstein Agrawal, PhD, and Hilary Nixon, PhD. The top-line survey results are available at http://bit.ly/1El8aH3, along with a figure showing the support level for each tax option polled.

One of the proposed federal bills, H.R. 1846, would index the gas tax to inflation and create a bi-partisan, bi-cameral transportation commission that would provide long-term funding of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). Another proposed bill, H.R. 680, would increase the gas tax by five cents per year for three years.

Photo: EROL/Flickr
“Conventional wisdom says that Americans strongly oppose any increase in the federal gas tax,” said Dr. Agrawal. “However, this survey shows that significant majorities want the government to provide better transportation infrastructure, are willing to pay for improvements, and want gas tax revenue spent on public transportation as well as on roads and highways.”

Voters will support targeted purposes
For example, one section of the survey tested whether people would support a ten-cent increase in the federal gas tax, which is currently 18.4 cents per gallon. Only 31% of respondents supported a gas tax increase for general transportation improvements, with no other information given. By contrast, 50% or more supported gas tax increases dedicated to more targeted transportation purposes such as improving maintenance (71% support), improving safety (64%), or reducing local air pollution (52%).

When asked whether or not gas tax revenue should be used to pay for public transit, a near “supermajority” (65%) said yes. This and other survey findings confirm that Americans desire a transportation system that includes good public transit as well as safe and well-maintained roads and highways.

“They envision a transportation future with a multimodal, safe, and well-maintained system,” said Dr. Agrawal. “More than 80% of respondents said that government should prioritize expanding and improving local public transit. Also, 91% want government to improve the safety of the transportation system, and 97% want government to prioritize maintenance of streets, roads, and highways.”

MTI has conducted several similar surveys
The random-digit-dial telephone survey tested national support for federal gas, mileage, and sales tax options to raise revenue for transportation purposes. Multiple variations on the mileage-tax and gas-tax concepts were presented to test relative support levels among the options. Mineta Transportation Institute has conducted similar surveys annually since 2010.

A total of 1,503 adults completed the survey in either English or Spanish between February 26, 2015, and March 31, 2015. For the full sample, which included both land-line and cell-phone numbers, the margin of error was +/- 2.53 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

AmeriCo Gas Station in Gorda, Calif. Photo: Charles Hathaway/Flickr
AmeriCo Gas Station in Gorda, Calif. Photo: Charles Hathaway/Flickr
The full research report, to be issued Thursday, June 25, will provide in-depth analysis of the survey results, reviewing trends in support across the six annual surveys, and investigating how the revealed opinions may vary according to respondents’ socio-demographic, political, and travel-behavior characteristics.

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