Recent Survey Reveals Evidence of Untapped Demand for Passenger Rail

The Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission recently conducted a survey of students, staff, and faculty at 30 Midwestern colleges and universities. The institutions reside in nine states, and are all along current Amtrak routes.

The Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC) in an interstate compact organization consisting of the states of Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. The compact for the Commission is to advocate for and create a modern and expanded interstate passenger rail system, as a clean and efficient alternative form of transportation for Midwestern residents. The Commission’s membership consists of two appointees from each state’s legislature, each state’s governor or the governor’s appointed designee, and one private sector appointee per state.

Transportation to and from nearby stations and improved information about services can be quick wins in improving passenger rail usage.

Some of the results highlighted by the MIPRC:

  • 68% of all respondents consider passenger rail service ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to the United States’ transportation future
  • 56% of all respondents said they would be more likely to utilize passenger rail service if it were made more frequently available
  • The top incentives that would increase train usage are:
    1. A station close to my permanent residence (44%)
    2. More/better discounts (pricing) (35%)
    3. Better information from college/university about how to take the train (29%)
    4. Transportation to nearest station provided by college/university (28%)
  • 51% of students, faculty, and staff said they were ‘not at all aware’ of the role that state and Federal governments play in funding passenger rail

That more than half of respondents said they would be more likely to use rail transportation if more frequently available is significant. Only 8.5% of respondents said they have used rail service to or from school more than once in the past 12 months. If even one quarter of university students and staff used rail multiple times in a year, that would mark a huge increase in utilization.

Besides the fairly evident reason of not owning a car (32%), the top reasons for taking the train were that it is convenient and comfortable compared to driving or flying (57%) and cheaper than alternative modes of transportation (49%). Only 11% of respondents cited the environmental benefits of rail. It is unclear whether this is due to apathy or ignorance towards the environmental benefits. If the latter, better marketing of these benefits could have a strong impact on ridership.

It seems that transportation to and from nearby stations and improved information can be quick wins in improving passenger rail usage. The survey was conducted during the most recent, 2015-2016 academic year, and received nearly twenty thousand respondents. More results and recommendations from the study can be found at the MIPRC website. More information about rail and other transportation infrastructure can be found on MuniNet’s Transportation page.

by Jeffrey L Garceau