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MIPRC Survey: Good News, Growth Potential for Passenger Rail

Posted by Content Coordinator on Friday, April 29th, 2016


MIPRC Universities & Colleges Passenger Rail Survey: Regional Results and Analysis

The Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission’s survey of students, faculty and staff at 30 colleges and universities along Amtrak passenger routes across nine states suggests good overall news for passenger rail service as it currently exists, and for its growth potential.

The survey identifies a small but dedicated group who ride trains regularly to and from school, and a wider group open to taking the train, who would do so with some relatively simple “prodding” by the participating schools and Amtrak. Results suggest that student ridership can be significantly increased with focused marketing of Amtrak service and schedules, cooperation between Amtrak and schools to get such information into students’ hands (whether literally or digitally) and, in some cases, to make transportation to and from campus and the train station easier. The survey also suggests that ridership could increase substantially region-wide if more frequent service were available.

The survey identifies strong support for passenger rail as an integral piece of the national transportation future, and even finds strong willingness to advocate on behalf of passenger rail. But the survey also shows that neither students nor – by inference – the general public are aware of the roles played by states and the federal government in funding Amtrak and in determining passenger rail routes and service frequencies. Thus we strongly recommend that a public education campaign be considered to clarify this point.

The MIPRC Universities & Colleges Passenger Rail Survey was conducted between November 2015 and February 2016.

Why are they taking the train?

Almost a quarter (23 percent) of respondents said they have taken the train to travel to/from school. Of respondents who said they have taken the train, 62 percent had ridden once or twice during the past 12 months; another 21 percent had ridden 3-4 times during that same period; and 17 percent had taken the train five or more times in the past year.

Although just five percent of regional respondents said the train is their primary travel mode to/from school and their permanent residence, a total of 10.5 percent said they take some form of public transportation (Amtrak, light rail/transit, commuter rail or intercity or local bus service) as their primary mode of travel to/from their school and permanent residence.

More than a third of those who take the train depend on it to get to school: Among respondents who have taken the train, 36 percent say passenger rail is a “very important” (22 percent) or “extremely important” (14 percent) resource to be able to attend their college/university. An additionally 29 percent said passenger rail service is a “somewhat important” resource for them to be able to attend school.

Asked “Why did you decide to use passenger rail service to/from your college/university,” and to mark all applicable answers,

  • 49 percent said the train was cheaper than other modes of transportation;
  • 57 percent said it’s convenient and comfortable compared to driving or flying;
  • 32 percent said they don’t have a car.

Interestingly, “for environmental reasons” drew just an 11 percent response, which may suggest that the environmental and carbon reduction aspects of passenger rail aren’t well known to the student population. Even if cost, convenience and comfort are primary reasons for people choosing this transportation mode, and the environmental benefits seem to “come along for the ride,” we recommend that passenger rail’s environmental benefits be included as part of any education campaign to this audience.

Growth potential

Even among respondents who say they’ve never taken the train to/from school, their reasons reflect a perceived lack of convenience rather than indifference or hostility. Asked “Why haven’t you used passenger rail (Amtrak) as a mode of transportation to and/or from your college/university,” and to mark all applicable answers,

  • 48 percent said the Amtrak route available from near home to school is inconvenient because either o it would take a lot more time than other travel modes (25 percent), or there is no direct route from near their home to school (23 percent);
  • 35 percent said there isn’t an Amtrak station close to home.
  • 24 percent said they “don’t know where/how to catch a train near my school.”

Only 14 percent indicated “a train ticket is too expensive”; just 7 percent said “I cannot rely on Amtrak trains to run on time.”

The fact that 24 percent say they don’t know where or how to catch a train near their schools signals a significant opportunity to boost passenger rail ridership, and for schools to market themselves to prospective students as conveniently located near comfortable, reliable passenger rail service.

Also, a small but significant number (15 percent) of those who said they had never taken the train to/from school indicated that a friend or family member had taken the train in the past 12 months to visit them at school. More than half (51 percent) indicated their friend/family member had taken the train because taking the train was cheaper than other modes of transportation, while half (50 percent) said it was more convenient and comfortable compared to flying or driving.

A significant minority of both those who had taken the train and those who hadn’t (but a friend or family member had) indicated they took the train because they don’t have a car (39 percent of friends/family and 32 percent of those who had taken the train themselves).

Download full version (PDF): MIPRC Universities & Colleges Passenger Rail Survey – Regional Results and Analysis

About the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission
The Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission — an interstate compact commission of Midwestern state legislators, governors and their designees — promotes the growth and development of state and regional passenger rail to create and maintain a modern, clean, efficient transportation network.

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One Response to “MIPRC Survey: Good News, Growth Potential for Passenger Rail”

  1. Ron Wolfe says:

    The Univerity of Wisconsin, Madison is 30 mi from the Amtrak Station in Columbus. With a reliable shuttle service more UW students would use the train. A train route through Madison offers significant increase in ridership not only from students, but from the much greater population density in Dane over Columbia county.

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