Why Most Americans Prefer Public Transit

Higher gas prices and convenience are the biggest factors when making public transit decisions, according to a latest survey.

Approximately 1 in 4 respondents think the most valuable feature of public transportation is that it reduces traffic congestion (28 percent), or saves users money (24 percent), while about 1 in 7 (13 percent) say it’s most valuable feature is the environmental benefit.

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A new study from HNTB Corporation takes a look at public transportation and what Americans think about using, improving and paying for it.

According to the HNTB America Thinks transit survey, nearly 9 in 10 (87 percent) Americans who have access to public transportation where they work or live take advantage of it.

In addition, almost 7 in 10 (69 percent) Americans feel there are many times when public transit is a better option than driving, and nearly three in ten of them choose higher gas prices (29 percent) and convenience (29 percent) as the biggest motivators for riding public transportation.

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“Whether it’s buses, commuter trains, light rail or streetcars, public transportation is an essential element for our communities,” said Elizabeth Rao, chair public transit services for HNTB.

“Healthy transportation infrastructure is economically and environmentally sound. It spurs job creation, stimulates the economy, reduces dependence on foreign oil and enhances quality of life.”

According to HNTB, the nation’s largest public transit agencies face an $80 billion maintenance backlog just to bring their rail systems to a state of good repair. Within the next six years, almost every transit vehicle (55,000 vehicles) in rural America will need to be replaced.

Even amid budget and service cutbacks due to the recession, 68 percent of Americans say the overall quality of public transportation in their area has stayed the same or improved during the last five years.

Among respondents with public transportation in their area, 58 percent say it has stayed about the same, while 25 percent think it has improved.

While using existing taxes is the most popular method of funding better public transportation, the survey showed millions also are willing to pay a little more for a convenient ride.

“Economically viable cities will make transit a priority because they realize they can generate multiple, positive economic outcomes with a single investment,” said Rao. “There has never been a better time for cities to build, improve or expand their public transit systems.”

Nearly half (46 percent) of Americans think local, state and federal governments don’t spend enough money on public transportation in their area.

Almost 3 in 10 (28 percent) think these governments should rely on a greater share of gas tax to help fund improved public transportation options.

Approximately 2 in 10 think private investors (21 percent) or local sales taxes (20 percent) should be the primary source of public transit funding. Just 1 in 10 (10 percent) think property taxes are the answer.

The survey polled a random nationwide sample of 1,000 Americans between Sept. 2 and Sept. 9, 2010. It was conducted by Kelton Research, which used an e-mail invitation and online survey. The survey findings were released Wednesday, Oct. 13.

HNTB Corporation is an employee-owned infrastructure firm serving federal, state, municipal, military and private clients.

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