Growing up in a small town an hour north of New York City, the car was a symbol of freedom — the freedom to get away from parents, to get away from school in the middle of the day, and to just get away. But after moving to the city, the freedom of not having to worry about a car became a lot more relevant.

According to a new poll by the Natural Resources Defense Council, three out of four Americans would prefer not to drive if they had public transportation capable of taking them where they needed to go. (Mitt Romney may want to rethink that plan to end federal support for Amtrak.)

Two out of three people polled want the government to improve and expand public transport, with the majority preferring those funds to support new modes of public transit – light rail, buses and trains – instead of highways.

Conducted by a bipartisan team of pollsters from Republican and Democratic backgrounds, the group asked 800 Americans about the current state of American transportation.

“Americans hate traffic and love transit,” said Peter Lehner, the NRDC’s executive director. “Investing in public transportation eases congestion but for too long most federal funding has limited people’s choices, leaving them sitting in traffic.”

As much as the car was once emblematic of so much that is American, many people these days would prefer to take the bus, if only there was a bus to take. Fifty-five percent of Americans want to drive less, but 74 percent say they have no other choice to get from point A to point B. And despite our national loathing for traffic jams, 63 percent would rather address the problem with better public transportation instead of building new roads.

The crucial question is: Are we willing to pay for it? Apparently, yes. In fact, many are willing to overpay for better public transport. Those polled guessed that their states spend an average of 16 percent of their transportation budget on public transport, and want to nearly double that number by bringing the percentage up to 28 percent. In truth, however, over the past three years, the average portion of transportation budgets spent on public transit was just 6.55 percent per state.

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