|Public Wants Transit, But Not at Any Price
While the public is highly supportive of transit as key to solving the metro area transportation problem, it is pragmatic and frugal in its view of government in general and transit spending in particular.
Unfortunately, the recent Guide the Ride ballot initiative was based on a philosophy of transit liberalism. The touchstone of this viewpoint is that the metro area must have a comprehensive rail-based transit system. This inevitably leads to a massive program dependent on new tax dollars.
Before advocates of this philosophy start another tax election for largely the same goals, there should be a careful examination of the public's view on transit spending.
A Ciruli Associates poll conducted for RTD in March 1998 shows two-thirds of Denver metro voters say they want to invest in more transit and light rail to solve the area's congestion problems, and 78 percent support a light rail line down the southeast corridor from downtown to the Tech Center. Yet they also made clear that last November's transit proposal was too much all at once (it was defeated 42% to 58%).
Why? The answer lies largely in a misalignment between transit advocates who enthusiastically proposed last fall's $6 billion, 66 percent tax increase and the majority of voters who are conservative to moderate regarding transit spending and planning.
The survey emphasizes voter pragmatism related to transit investment:
Given a choice in transit scenarios for the Denver area, a plurality (40%) of residents would use current revenue to improve bus service and build some light rail. Only if congestion requires additional investment will the public support a tax increase, and even then it must be more economical than last November's proposal. Remaining residents were divided: about one-quarter are ready to support another Guide the Ride tax proposal and 31 percent are opposed to any tax increase for transit spending. Voters are pro transit, but tax resistant.
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