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Paying more to drive splits region

Survey says Washington County residents less likely to spring for road fixes, transportation costs


Politicians are normally reluctant to raise transportation-related charges and fees, including gas taxes.

But a majority of those who responded to a recent Metro "Opt-In" survey said they'd be willing to pay more to drive — provided the money went to fix potholes, repair roads and expand public transportation and bike and pedestrian systems.

Increasing the coverage, frequency and reliability of public transportation received the most support from the respondents, closely followed by repairing roads to improve traffic flow and connecting more places with sidewalks, pedestrian walkways and separated bike paths.

Responses differed by county, however. For example, Multnomah County respondents were most willing to pay more to drive. A majority of Washington County respondents were not.

It is unclear whether the results will encourage any politicians to propose increasing transportation-related costs to fund such improvements, however.

Metro sponsored the online survey as part of its Climate Smart Communities project. The regional elected government started the project in response to a directive from the 2007 Oregon Legislature to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles in the metropolitan area.

The Metro Council is not scheduled to complete the project until late 2014, shortly before presenting its recommendations to the 2015 Oregon Legislature. Options will be discussed with advisory committees and the public between now and then. They are expected to include a range of approaches, such as encouraging more people to live closer to where they work, play and shop.

To read the full survey and register to participate in future ones, visit optinpanel.org.

Opinions differ by county

The survey results present both challenges and opportunities to Metro. For starters, only 32 percent of the respondents are familiar with the legislative requirement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite that, a full 70 percent of respondents support the goal of the Metro project. They do not believe enough is currently being done about climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the region. Seventy-nine percent of Multnomah County respondents feel that way, followed by 59 percent of those in Washington County and 52 percent of those in Clackamas County.

Translating concern into action is apparently difficult, however. Driving alone is still the most common way the respondents get around in the region, with nearly 80 percent doing so on a daily or weekly basis. Driving alone is most common in Clackamas County, where 88 percent of respondents do so, followed by Washington County at 86 percent and Multnomah County at 71 percent.

Three in four respondents said they would like more transportation choices, however. The greatest demand came from Multnomah County respondents at 79 percent, followed by Washington County at 71 percent and Clackamas County at 66 percent.

Most survey-takers also said they would use alternative transportation more, under certain conditions.

For example, 80 percent or more of respondents in all three counties said they would use public transportation more if it got them where they wanted to go in about the same time as driving.

Significant percentages also said they would use public transportation more if it were more reliable, easier to access, and felt safer.

Three in four also agreed they would bike or walk more often if their destinations were closer to where they lived. More than half — 57 percent — said they would bike or walk more if there were more bicycle paths and sidewalks in their neighborhoods, and they knew it would be safe. There were no significant differences among the responses by county.

According to the survey, more frequent transit service would have the largest impact on reducing the amount people drive. Sixty-four percent of respondents agreed with that statement, with the greatest support in Multnomah County at 74 percent. That compares to 64 percent in Washington County and 55 percent in Clackamas County.

Paying more splits the region

A majority of the respondents said they are willing to pay more for such improvements — provided they are part of a balanced package that includes road repairs and expansions, too.

According to the survey, 69 percent of respondents support paying more for gas, parking and other transportation-related costs under such conditions. Support was greatest in Multnomah County at 75 percent, followed by Clackamas County at 59 percent.

Only 39 percent of Washington County respondents were wiling to pay more to drive, however. Perhaps significantly, Washington County already has a countywide road tax. The other two counties do not.

When asked to prioritize spending over the next 10 to 20 years, 23 percent chose increasing the coverage, frequency and reliability of public transportation. Next highest, at 21 percent, was fixing potholes, repairing roads and improving traffic flow. That was followed at 19 percent by connecting more places with sidewalks, pedestrian paths and separated bicycle paths.

The priorities varied by county, however. Improving pubic transportation was the top choice for 25 percent of Multnomah County respondents. In contrast, road work was the number one priority in Clackamas County at 26 percent and Washington County at 22 percent.

Pros and cons of Opt In surveys

The online survey was managed by DHM Research, a Portland polling firm. It is one of a series of Opt In surveys managed by the Portland firm for Metro and other clients. The survey was conducted between March 26 and April 8. A total of 2,835 registered Opt In panelists participated in it.

The Opt In panelists are not a scientific sample of the tri-county area. They tend to be older, more educated, and more likely to live in Multnomah County and be registered Democrats.

Those who responded to the survey were similar. For example, 63 percent live in Multnomah County, 25 percent live in Washington County and 12 percent live in Clackamas County. Over 80 percent have completed four or more years of college.

But the number who participated in the survey is far higher than those normally contacted in conventional polls. It is also more than Metro usually hears from through conventional public outreach methods, such as open houses.

The elected Metro Council is scheduled to review the survey results and other information related to the Climate Smart Communities project later this year.



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