It was the second highest priority in Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, according to the State of Transport Opinion Poll, which was released by the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies (ITLS) at UJ.
The survey of 1 000 adults across South Africa found that, countrywide, concerns about transport were surpassed only by education and health.
Transport was higher in people's minds than housing, law and order and infrastructure, and more so in rural areas and small cities.
The public's top three transport issues were public transport, the high accident rate and the cost of fuel.
"These were followed by, in order: taxis, quality of roads, the need for improved safety, high transport costs, access to transport, the availability of transport and the state of rail transport," said ITLS director Jackie Walters.
Although public transport was the highest priority in four of the nine provinces, it was accidents in the Eastern Cape and North West, the quality of roads in the Free State, minibus taxis in the Western Cape, and the fuel price in the Northern Cape.
Only 32% of the people surveyed felt that transport in their local areas was better now than a year ago.
However, the survey found that the outlook for the future was better, with 43% of South Africans thinking transport in their local area would improve in the next year and 57% believing it would improve in the next five years.
"This opinion indicates that the public feel that national and local governments, who they believe are responsible for transport, aren't currently doing enough to address these concerns.
"But they expect transport problems will be addressed in the next few years," said Walters.
Although Limpopo and Mpumalanga residents were the most positive, most respondents were generally positive about the medium-term future of transport.
More than half of respondents said there should be more private sector involvement in the provision of public transport.