Sixty-nine percent said they would never or hardly ever ride it. Zero percent said they would use it more than once a week. Public opinion surveys cannot predict the revenues and ridership a rail service might generate. The poll results raise questions about whether the system would serve as a robust commuter network, allowing people to live in small towns and work in big cities or vice versa. On the other hand, 33% of respondents said they would prefer a bullet train over an airplane or car on trips between L.A. and the Bay Area.
The fare for the premium nonstop service, pegged in the rail authority's plan at $123 one way, gives many potential customers pause. Andres Ruiz of South Gate, who has worked in an aluminum foundry for 35 years, drives to San Francisco three or four times a year. Ideally, he'd like to take a train but questions whether he could afford tickets for his whole family. "I don't think the project is a very important thing," he said.
A majority of voters agree, the poll found. Across the state, 55% of the respondents said the state has bigger priorities than borrowing money to build a bullet train. And 43% said they would rather spend the money on improvements to rail transportation in their own area. Only 32% said the bullet train is a higher priority.
Both the Republican and Democratic pollsters agreed that souring public views on the train could jeopardize voter support for the governor's November ballot measure to increase taxes.
"The deficits are scary," agreed Dan Williams of Needles, a 50-year-old independent voter. "To me, this rail project is among the very lowest priorities for the state."
Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, said that if voters "connect the dots" between a tax increase and spending on a controversial bullet train, "it could completely undermine support for Brown's initiative."
The USC Dornsife/L.A. Times survey contacted 1,002 registered voters in mid-May. Two other polls last year also found shrinking support for the project, which was approved by 52.7% of voters in 2008. A third poll this year also found likely voters opposed the project, though adults in general favor it by a small margin.