Little support for Texan transit; even less for toll roads

October 7, 2014 | 0 Comments

The 410,000 who joined in last month’s People’s Climate March may want to visit the Lone Star State. 38% of residents there believe public transit reduces congestion, but only 6% of Texans use it as their primary means of travel, according to a study released by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

Streetcar at Akard Place in Dallas.

The Texan public is skeptical of transit investments like Dallas’s DART system. From Kinkisharyo.

Conducted in May, the study surveyed more than 5,000 residents via telephone, mail, and online outreach to discover how they get around and their opinions on transit funding. Researchers found that 91% of respondents used a personal automobile as their primary means of travel, with 91% also saying that they owned or leased their own vehicles. Just 6% are dependent on public transit, with minorities and those with an annual household income of less than $25,000 relying most heavily on public transportation.

The poll further revealed that many hold a positive view of congestion, seeing it as a result of the state’s strong economy. A majority also attributed congestion to a growing population.

When asked how congestion might be best reduced, public-transit users replied that increasing funding for public transportation would help manage congestion, while respondents who primarily use cars said that supporting strategies such as timing traffic signals and adding more lanes to state-maintained roads would better manage congestion.

“Building more toll roads was, by far, the least supported strategy,” said the report. “The lack of support held true in both metropolitan areas and rural areas, as well as areas with and without toll roads.”

Researchers also discovered that many respondents were misinformed about transportation funding. Less than 1% knew the correct amount (38.4 cents) paid in fuel tax per gallon of gas. Half also thought that the fuel tax fluctuated with the price of gas; on the contrary, it’s a fixed rate.

Those misperceptions suggest advocates of public transit face serious challenges in Texas, though recent studies may offer inspiration. For instance, a joint study released by the University of California and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy last month found that public transit could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 40% by 2050. Investing in public transit would also lower the annual premature death toll by about 1.4 million, researchers wrote, as well as save economies some $100 trillion in long-term costs.

For those who don’t buy the environmental, health, or economic benefits of public transit, a 2013 study by Michael Anderson may provide grudging comfort. The Berkeley scholar analyzed of the impact of a 35-day transit strike on Los Angeles in 2003 and found that public transit only partially relieved congestion.

Anderson reviewed hourly traffic speed data on major L.A. freeways during the strike and learned that the impact was most significant on those that paralleled public transit while remaining statistically insignificant on roads in nearby counties. Past research looked too closely at general metro traffic, not on specific roads that public transit would most likely affect, he argued.

The results shared by both California studies may eventually alter Texans’ perception of public transit and funding for public transportation. The Texas A&M Transportation Institute intends to conduct its poll every two years to track changes in the public’s views on the subject.

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Category: Transportation