Report: Consensus crucial to rail ballot initiative success

Posted on August 11, 2011

A new study confirms the importance of a having a concensus when trying to pass rail ballot initiatives. The research report, released by the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI), presents an updated analysis of a 2001 report on transportation tax elections in urban areas across the U.S.

The report,“Revisiting Factors Associated with the Success of Ballot Initiatives with a Substantial Rail Transit Component,”also further analyzes the impacts of 17 previously identified community-level factors with their potential impact on the success of ballot measures for sales tax increases to fund transportation packages with substantial rail components.

Patterns observed in the current case studies were found to be highly consistent with the findings from the 2001 study. Thus, for example, this analysis reaffirms the importance of consensus among the business, elected, and environmental communities, and the accompanying depth of financial support. The updated study once again validated the difficulty of passing an initiative without well-funded, effective use of multimedia. It also validated the importance of using experienced campaign consultants.

"Some factors seemed less important in the current study than in 2001," said Peter J. Haas, Ph.D., who conducted that earlier study with Richard Werbel, Ph.D. "These include the effectiveness of presenting a multimodal transportation package, the perception that benefits of a package would be distributed throughout the voting district, the experience gained in recent transit elections, and the credibility of the transit agency."

This compilation also includes an exploration of "rebound" elections — those instances in which a failed measure is quickly followed by a successful one — and the factors that seem linked to success in those instances. That is, four of the eight cases studied were part of a pair of ballot measures offered in rapid succession.

These findings suggest that a number of variables not included in the primary analysis may be particularly relevant to the success or failure of transit measures and should not be discredited by transportation planners and campaign entities.

The eight cases studies included in this report represent a variety of circumstances, ranging from approval of a starter rail line, to supplementing an existing tax, to affirming public desire that a general excise tax fund a light rail system, to voting against repeal of an existing sales tax. The eight cities and/or counties included Maricopa, Ariz.; Seattle; Charlotte, N.C.; Honolulu; Los Angeles; Kansas City, Mo.; St. Louis, Mo.; and Santa Clara County, Calif.

The report is the second update of the original 2000 report and is available for free download at www.transweb.sjsu.edu/project/2911.html.

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