Management & Operations

Americans support higher gas taxes, spending revenue on public transit

Posted on June 28, 2016

Americans are willing to pay increased taxes if the revenue is invested in specific transportation improvements, according to the results of a new Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) national telephone survey.

The report, “What Do Americans Think About Federal Tax Options to Support Public Transit, Highways, and Local Streets and Roads? Results from Year Seven of a National Survey,” reveals that support depends on how the tax is structured and described, with some options supported by a majority — or even a supermajority — of Americans. The survey is year seven of an annual series that repeats the same questions each year. This year’s results show that support for raising transportation taxes has grown over the past six years.

The study, available for free here, was conducted by Asha Weinstein Agrawal, PhD, and Hilary Nixon, PhD.

“Conventional wisdom says that Americans strongly oppose any increase in the federal gas tax,” said Dr. Agrawal. “However, this survey shows that more than half of Americans support a federal gas tax increase if the revenue is dedicated to improving maintenance, safety, or the environment.”

Key 2016 findings related to increasing taxes include:
  • Of the 10 transportation tax options tested, six had majority support.
  • Linking tax increases to safety, maintenance, or environmental benefits increased support by at least 10 percentage points among almost all the sociodemographic groups tested.
  • Support levels varied considerably by the type of tax. When taxes were described with no information other than the tax type, a new sales tax was much more popular than either a gas tax increase or a new mileage tax.
  • Looking across the seven years of survey data, support for all the taxes except the flat-rate mileage tax has risen modestly. In seven cases, support has increased by more than ten percentage points since the first year the question was asked.
Key 2016 findings specific to public transit include:
  • A large majority (82%) said that expanding and improving transit services in their states should be a high or medium government priority.
  • Only one-half of respondents knew that fares don’t cover the cost of transit, and only 29% knew of the federal government’s role in funding public transit.
  • Two-thirds supported spending current gas tax revenues on transit, although only 41% supported increasing gas taxes to improve transit.
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