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Rob Perks’s Blog

New poll proves that voters are entranced by transit

Rob Perks

Posted January 16, 2013 in Living Sustainably, Moving Beyond Oil

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On the heels of NRDC's nationwide public opinion polling which found strong support for public transportation amongst voters across the political spectrum, a new poll by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) reveals similar findings.

To recap, here are just a few highlights from NRDC's research last summer: 

  • A solid majority (59%) of Americans would like more transportation options so they have the freedom to travel other than by driving. More than three in five Americans (63%) favor new transit – buses, trains and light rail – rather than new highways as the best way to solve the nation’s traffic woes.
  • With regard to voters, 78% of self-identified Liber Demoracts, 70% of Moderate Democrats, 58% of Independents, 65% of Moderate Republicans, and 55% of Conservative Republicans favor spending on public transportation over road-building as a solution to traffic congestion.
  • Americans over-estimate what their state spends on public transportation, estimating that it is an average of 16% of their state’s transportation budget (compared to the actual level of about 6 percent)—and still they would like that amount nearly doubled, callingfor their state to spend an average of 28% on public transportation.

Our nationwide findings were borne out by the November elections, in which voters nationwide approved 49 of 62 (79%) of public transit initiatives. That was the best showing at the ballot box since the Center for Transportation Excellence began tracking these ballot measures over a decade ago.

Now comes a newly released nationwide survey by APTA, showing that: 

  • 81% value public transit’s affordable mobility
  • 79% believe public transportation offers opportunities for every segment of the population
  • 76% favor increased funding for public transportation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and improve America’s economic security
  • 75% support using tax dollars to expand and improve public transportation
  • 73% say a strong transit system leads to economic growth in their communities

"Given these results, our mandate is clear: Keep fighting for those public transit dollars that have proven to be an engine for growth and a lifeline to mobility," APTA President Michael Melaniphy said in his recent "state of the industry" remarks.

Melaniphy went on to note the challenges public transit advocates face in the new year, as Congress and the White House seek ways to reduce federal spending and lower the deficit. He urged transit supporters to redouble efforts "to educate more people, win new allies, and demonstrate public transportation’s essential role in a national recovery."

As an APTA member, NRDC is certainly on board with that.

We're encouraged by the fact that across the country transit ridership increased for the first three quarters of 2012. More Americans are relying on public transportation, and Americans are demanding even more of it. With 100 million more people living in this nation by 2050, more transit makes sense to reduce congestion, strengthen the economy, and serve the needs of an increasingly diverse population.

Also in his "state of the industry" speech, Melaniphy made a good case for transit that policy makers should keep in mind:

More people of all ages are relocating to urban areas. Transit-oriented development development (TOD) is revitalizing communities, as residents seek a lifestyle with easy access to work and leisure. Many developers are recognizing the pent-up demand for TOD and have initiated new development trends with this in mind.  Many developers are recognizing the pent-up demand for TOD and have initiated new development trends with this in mind. Some of the strongest – and newest – supporters of public transportation are the Gen X and Yers, who seek economic ease of mobility and want to contribute to reducing their carbon footprints.  

And it’s not just the younger generations that want more public transportation options. s our country’s population ages, public transportation needs to be available to older Americans who choose not to drive or cannot drive any longer. Additionally, 2013 will see an increase in the needs of special populations, such as persons with disabilities, rural residents, and returning veterans. 

Indeed, the trend in American is shifting away from the splendid isolation of the suburbs toward the 'five-minute lifestyle' -- work, school, transit, doctors, dining, playgrounds, entertainment all within a short walk from home. Simply put, Boomers are downsizing and don't want to become stranded seniors in car-dependent suburbs. Many Millennials are rejecting the isolated suburbs in favor of more convenient, ttransit-accessible urban communities. Exurban property values are dropping while those in walkable neighborhoods are spiking. There is a growing movement away from sprawl to so-called strong towns marked by places embracing sustainable land use and smarter development.

Yet planners and decision-makers, for the most part, are still behind the curve when it comes to policies that recognize the increasing role of public transportation in our lives. Among other benefits, transit offers a more sane way to travel that won't leave us stuck in traffic. America is at a cross-roads with transportation, and it's our job to make them understand that the best way forward isn't the one that limits our choices to just a car. 

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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