, Volume 42, Issue 2, pp 303–332 | Cite as

Why do voters support public transportation? Public choices and private behavior

  • Michael ManvilleEmail author
  • Benjamin Cummins


We examine American support for transit spending, and particularly support for financing transit with local transportation sales taxes. We first show that support for transportation sales tax elections may be a poor proxy for transit support; many voters who support such taxes do not support increased transit spending, and many people who support transit spending do not support increased sales taxes to finance it. We then show that support for transit spending is correlated more with belief in its collective rather than private benefits—transit supporters are more likely to report broad concerns about traffic congestion and air pollution than to report wanting to use transit themselves. These findings suggest a collective action problem, since without riders transit cannot deliver collective benefits. But most transit spending supporters do not use transit, and demographics suggest they are unlikely to begin doing so; transit voters are wealthier and have more options than transit riders.


Public transportation Voting Travel behavior 



The John Randolph Haynes Foundation supported this research. We thank the NRDC and the Reason Foundation for sharing data with us. We thank Jay Siegel for research assistance, and Brian Taylor, Mike Smart and Daniel Kuhlman for helpful comments.


  1. Anderson, M.: Subways, strikes and slowdowns: the impacts of public transit on traffic congestion NBER Working Paper No. 18757 (2013)Google Scholar
  2. APTA (American Public Transportation Association): Americans’ support for transportation. June (2013)Google Scholar
  3. APTA (American Public Transportation Association): The benefits of public transportation: relieving traffic congestion. Washington (2012)Google Scholar
  4. APTA (American Public Transportation Association): Public transportation ridership report. Washington (1990)Google Scholar
  5. APTA (American Public Transportation Association): Public transportation ridership report. Washington (2013b)Google Scholar
  6. Benenson Strategy Group: Los Angeles mayoral primary poll—crosstabs. Available at (2013)
  7. Buehler, R., Pucher, J.: Demand for public transport in Germany and the USA: an analysis of rider characteristics. Transp. Rev. 32(5), 541–567 (2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Caplan, B.: The Myth of the Rational Voter. Princeton University Press, Princeton (2007)Google Scholar
  9. Center for Transportation Excellence: Transportation finance at the ballot box. Washington (2006)Google Scholar
  10. Dixit, V., Rutstrom, E., Mard, M.S., Zielske, R.: Transit referenda and funding options. Transp. Res. Rec. 2143, 44–47 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Downs, A.: Still Stuck in Traffic. Brookings, Washington (2004)Google Scholar
  12. Duranton, G., Turner, : The fundamental law of road congestion. Am. Econ. Rev. 101(6), 2616–2652 (2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Farmer, S.: Uneven public transportation development in neoliberalizing Chicago, USA. Neoliberal Environ. Plan. A. 43(5), 1154–1172 (2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Garrett, M., Taylor, B.: Reconsidering social equity in transit. Berkeley Plan. J. 13(1), 6–27 (1999)Google Scholar
  15. Gilens, M.: Why Americans Hate Welfare. University of Chicago Press, Chicago (1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Glaeser, E., Kahn, M., Rappaport, J.: Why do the poor live in cities? The role of public transportation. J. Urban. Econ. 63(1), 1–24 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gratz, R.: Cities Back from the Edge. Wiley, New York (1998)Google Scholar
  18. Grescoe, T.: Straphanger. Times Books, New York (2012)Google Scholar
  19. Hannay, R., Wachs, M.: Factors influencing support for local transportation sales tax measures. Transportation 34, 17–35 (2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Haas, P., Estrada, K.: Revisiting factors associated with the success of ballot initiatives with a substantial rail transit component. Report No. CA-MTI-11-2911, Mineta Transportation Institute (2011)Google Scholar
  21. Hetherington, M., Weiler, J.: Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics. Cambridge University Press, New York (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hine, J., Mitchell, F.: Transport Disadvantage and Social Exclusion. Ashgate, London (2003)Google Scholar
  23. Kalton, G., Schuman, H.: The effect of the question on survey responses. J. R. Stat. Soc. 145(1), 42–73 (1982)Google Scholar
  24. Kenworthy, L.: Social Democratic America. Oxford, New York (2013)Google Scholar
  25. Keyser, J.: Streetcars Aiding Cities Desiring a Revival. Boston Globe. 13 November 2013Google Scholar
  26. National Opinion Research Center: General Social Survey Cumulative Datafile. National Opinion Research Center, Chicago (1984–2012)Google Scholar
  27. National Geographic: Greendex worldwide survey. (2012)
  28. National Resources Defense Council: Transportation survey. Available at (2012)
  29. PPIC (Public Policy Institute of California): Special survey: Californians and land use. PPIC, San Francisco (2002)Google Scholar
  30. PPIC (Public Policy Institute of California): Special survey of Los Angeles County. PPIC, San Francisco (2003)Google Scholar
  31. PPIC (Public Policy Institute of California): Special survey of Los Angeles County. PPIC, San Francisco (2004)Google Scholar
  32. PPIC (Public Policy Institute of California): Special survey of Los Angeles County. PPIC, San Francisco (2005)Google Scholar
  33. Reason Foundation: Reason/rupe transportation poll. Reason Foundation, Washington (2011)Google Scholar
  34. Santos, A., McGuckin, N., Nakamoto, H., Gray, D., Liss, S.: Summary of travel trends: 2009 national household travel survey. Federal Highway Administration Report -PL-ll-022. Washington (2011)Google Scholar
  35. Shadish, W., Cook, T., Campbell, D.: Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs for Generalized Causal Inference. Cengage Learning, Independence (2001)Google Scholar
  36. Smart, M.: A volatile relationship: the effect of changing. Gasoline prices on public support for mass transit. Transp. Res. A 61, 178–185 (2014)Google Scholar
  37. Taylor, B., Miller, D., Iseki, H., Fink, C.: Nature and/or nurture? Analyzing the determinants of transit ridership across US urbanized areas. Transp. Res. Part A 43(1), 60–77 (2009)Google Scholar
  38. Taylor, B.D., Samples, K.: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: political Perceptions, Economic Reality, and Capital Bias in U.S. Transit Subsidy Policy. Public Works Manag. Policy 6(4), 250–263 (2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Weinstein, A., Nixon, H.: What do Americans think about federal tax options to support public transit, highways, and local streets and roads? Mineta Transportation Institute (2012)Google Scholar
  40. Werbel, R.A., Haas, P.J.: Voting outcomes of local tax ballot measures with a substantial rail transit component. Transp. Res. Rec. 1799(1), 10–17 (2002)Google Scholar
  41. Zmud, J., Arce, C.: Compilation of public opinion data on tolls and road pricing. Transp. Res. Board, Washington (2008)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of City and Regional PlanningCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.RSG, IncBurlingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations