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Survey: Support for public transportation strong

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

The majority of Atlanta area residents support public transportation and would be willing to pay for it, according to a new survey released by the Transportation Planning Board.

The survey sampled the transportation opinions and attitudes of 4,123 people in 12 counties, interviewing men and women, blacks and whites, young and old, rich and poor, and rural and urban. The survey found that the while 56 percent of people say they never use public transportation now, and 90 percent of people get to work by driving alone, 54 percent would be very or somewhat likely to use public transportation, if it there were stops within 10 or 15 minutes of their home and workplace.

The survey found that even people who won't use public transportation support it:

· 85 percent of metro residents believe investment in public transportation systems would strengthen the economy and reduce traffic congestion.

· 80 percent support funding road construction and new transportation options.

· 74 percent believe their community needs more transportation options.

"The elected officials wanted to know for sure, that the support is there" said Cheryl King, executive director of the TPB. "Well, now we have empirical evidence. The people want something. The people are fed up with traffic and congestion."

Eldrin Bell, chairman of the TPB, and of Clayton County's Board of Commissioners, said the survey confirmed what regional public transportation advocates have been saying.

"The public support is overwhelming," Bell said, "and across the board."

In Henry County, where 78 percent of people say they never use public transportation, 55 percent say they would be very or somewhat likely to use public transportation, if there were stops within 10 or 15 minutes of their home and workplace.

Again, there's an even larger majority of people who told surveyors they support the idea of public transportation, with 84 percent saying they strongly or somewhat agreed with increasing investments in public transportation, 77 percent saying road construction and new public transportation options should be funded, and 69 percent saying their community needs more transportation options.

In Clayton County, where 87 percent of people drive to work alone and 82 percent have a commute of more than 15 minutes, 54 percent say they would be very or somewhat likely to use public transportation, if there were stops within 10 or 15 minutes of their home and workplace.

In Clayton County, 59 percent of respondents say they strongly agree that increased investment in public transportation would be good, and another 25 percent say they somewhat agree. About 14 percent somewhat or strongly disagreed with increased investment.

Almost three-quarters in Clayton County say they want more transportation options, with 72 percent somewhat or strongly supporting options like commuter rail, light rail and buses.

According to the TPB survey, which was released at the board's meeting on Thursday, Atlanta-area residents are willing to support a regional sales tax to pay for transportation alternatives. About 58 percent of respondents from the 12 counties say they would support a one-cent-per-dollar sales tax, supporting the idea by a margin of 22 percent.

When surveyors broke the statistics down by gender, race, age and income bracket, the only group without a majority of support for the sales tax was those over the age of 65. Seniors still came out in favor of the tax, though, 49 to 42 percent.

The largest margins of support for the sales tax came from younger people, with those between the ages of 18 and 49 supporting the funding mechanism 64 to 31 percent, a 33 percent margin, and those making over $100,000 a year, 67 to 29 percent, a margin of 38 percent.

Broken down, county by county, the largest support for the transportation-dedicated sales tax came from DeKalb, Spaulding and Clayton counties, each with 60 percent or more in support, and the largest amount of opposition came from Henry and Fayette, the only counties with more than 40 percent of respondents opposed to the sales tax.

"Now we know," said Bell. "This should serve as a guidepost for legislators."