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Study: Most Car Owners Wish They Didn’t Have to Drive

8:50 AM EDT on March 19, 2020

Most people who get behind the wheel every day don't want to be there.

More than half of drivers wish they had another option for getting around besides their cars, according to a new poll from Data for Progress — a startling revelation that busts the stubborn myth that most Americans simply prefer driving to greener modes of transportation. In fact, the survey suggests that when we put cars at the center of our planning decisions, we're not truly serving the will of the people.

Of course, we've prioritized car travel in almost all aspects of American life anyway — and that choice has stuck a lot of would-be walkers, cyclists and transit users with car commutes they often don't want. A not-shocking 80 percent of survey respondents said they agreed with the statement, "I have no choice but to drive as much as I do" — a statement that reflects the autocentric communities that most people live in, communities where people feel they have to own a private vehicle.

And over half of all car users agreed with the statement, "I would like to use public transportation more often, but it is not as convenient to or available from my home or work."

Source: Data for Progress
Source: Data for Progress
Source: Data for Progress

Like study after study has shown us for years, Americans don't just idly wish they could take the train to work someday — they want their cold, hard tax dollars to fund more transit now. In a country that spends just 20 cents out of every transportation dollar on transit, respondents said they'd support cutting the road budget by 13 cents and giving it to buses and trains instead.

And before you ask: no, this was not a survey of transit-loving city slickers who only vote blue. The survey group was pre-selected for diversity, and results were even "weighted to be representative of the population of US voters by age, race/ethnicity, sex, US Census region, and 2016 Presidential vote choice."

Even the researchers were surprised to find that 65 percent of Republicans agreed with the 90 percent of Democrats who think the U.S. needs better public transit. Mind you, only 35 percent of GOP voters said they "strongly" or somewhat" support increasing taxes and fees to actually pay to make transit better, but...still, that's not nothing.

Source: <a href="
Source: Data for Progress.
Source: Data for Progress.

It's heartening to realize, too, that these are the opinions of people who, more than likely, have been raised in the midst of American car culture. Imagine how much support for transit there would be if we didn't forgive traffic violence in our legal system, valorize driving in our films, and build our roads almost exclusively around the safety and comfort of drivers.

If we still want transit even with powerful, moneyed interests spending billions of dollars every year to make sure Americans think cars are glamorous and powerful (and that transit looks gross, dangerous and degrading) there must be a reason: because public transportation is just what our cities need.

Maybe policymakers should pay attention.

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