Support for transportation taxes and fees: Gauging public opinion

By Mary Ebeling
The Mineta Transportation Institute has released its seventh annual survey report of public opinion on a variety of tax policies for funding transportation. The current survey presents ten tax options, worded in general terms and touching on different formulations of a vehicle mileage tax and gas tax concepts. Over its history, the survey questions have remained largely the same, with transit questions added in 2012. This work has resulted in a better understanding of the circumstances under which the public would support raising revenue for transportation, the preferred means of collecting this revenue, and preferences on how the money should be spent. It also tracks how these opinions have changed over time. This information should help policy makers as they craft transportation funding proposals.
Key findings from the report include:

  • Linking tax increases to safety, maintenance, or environmental benefits increased support by at least ten 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.
  • A large majority (82%) [of respondents] 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.

Mineta chart
Over the seven years MTI has conducted these surveys, support for transportation taxes—with the notable exception of a flat rate mileage tax—has grown across demographic groups. However, those who drive the most were the least likely to support user fees. The study found support for a new tax or fee was highest if the new revenue went to maintaining existing streets and highways (75 percent) or if the revenue was dedicated to improving safety (64 percent.)
Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.