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Survey Indicates Passenger Rail a Critical Resource for UCM Students

By Jeff Murphy, April 18, 2016

WARRENSBURG, MO – Almost half have of the individuals who responded to a recent survey said they have taken Amtrak to/from school, more than two-thirds of those who have taken the train say passenger rail service is an important resource to attend school, and a strong majority of all respondents say they would ride more frequently if more frequent service was available. The survey was conducted at the University of Central Missouri by the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission.

UCM is one of three four-year colleges and universities in Missouri, and 30 across nine Midwestern states, to participate in this survey. It aims to assess the importance of intercity passenger rail service among college and university students, faculty and staff whose schools are located along current Amtrak routes and help determine what schools, states and the region can do to boost passenger rail service.

“These results are very encouraging; not only is there a solid ridership base today, but the survey shows enormous passenger growth potential could result from well-targeted marketing and education campaigns. That’s as good a ‘return on investment’ as we could hope to find,” says Missouri state Sen. David Pearce, chair of the MIPRC University Partnerships Committee, “We encourage states, schools and Amtrak to work over the summer break so they can begin tapping this market when fall terms begin.”

Among key results from UCM respondents:

  • A strong majority of respondents (59 percent) say they would be more likely to take the train if more frequent service was available; 29 percent would be “much more likely,” and 30 percent would be “somewhat more likely.” (UCM is currently served by two roundtrip Amtrak trains daily that have station stops in Warrensburg, via the Missouri River Runner service between St. Louis and Kansas City. The Missouri River Runner is financed primarily by the state of Missouri.)
  • The vast majority of respondents (74 percent) said they consider passenger rail service important (34 percent) or very important (40 percent) to the United States’ transportation future.
  • Almost half (46 percent) of respondents reported that they have taken the train at least once to get to/from UCM. Of those who have taken Amtrak to/from Central Missouri, 58 percent have ridden once or twice during the past 
    12 months. Another 21 percent say they have ridden 3-4 times, 12 percent have ridden 5-9 times and 9 percent have ridden at least 10 times.
  • For those who have taken the train to/from UCM, 68 percent indicate that the Amtrak service is an important resource for them to be able to attend the school. Asked how important Amtrak service is to their ability to attend University of Central Missouri, 39 percent of these respondents said either “Very Important” or “Extremely Important.” Another 29 percent say it’s “Somewhat Important.”
  • Among those who had never taken the train to/from UCM, a sizable number indicated particular changes that might motivate them to take the train in the future. For example, half indicated “More/Better Discounts,” 35 percent indicated “If there was a station close to my permanent residence” and 33 percent indicated “Better Arrival/Departure Times” might motivate them to use Amtrak to travel to/from the school in the future.
  • Most respondents are only “somewhat aware” (37 percent) or “not at all aware” (50 percent) of state and federal governments’ roles in funding passenger rail, including whether to increase service frequency or add new routes.

 “UCM appreciates the opportunity to participate in the MIPRC survey.  We think it is important that students are aware of their transportation options, which include Amtrak. We hope the data provided by UCM will be helpful in assessing the value of rail transportation, and the best way to communicate that to those who may not be aware,” said UCM President Charles Ambrose. “This access to college comes in many different forms and the convenience provided to students by using Amtrak certainly makes UCM more accessible to them to meet their aspirations and dreams.”

UCM’s online survey was conducted between Nov. 12 and Dec. 23, 2015. It drew a total of 1,101 responses (not every respondent replied to every question). Of respondents who identified themselves, 70 percent are students, 16 percent are staff, and 14 percent are faculty. Of student respondents, 92 percent say they are full time.

Additionally, respondents across all 30 participating schools who said they had taken intercity passenger rail recently were invited to take a second survey about their most recent trip. A total of 1,597 did so. Highlights among their answers include:

  • Forty-seven percent say their ticket was either “very” or “extremely” affordable. Furthermore, 71 percent say they enjoyed their experience or enjoyed it a lot. But schedules are a concern; just 34 percent say they had “very convenient” or “extremely convenient” departure/arrival times. Moreover, 49 percent say their train arrived at destination later than scheduled (45 percent say their train arrived on time).
  • WiFi service is a critical service amenity: 70 percent say onboard WiFi availability is “very” or “extremely” important, and 60 percent have used it during their rides.
  • Seventy-four percent say they have never used a discount code or card when purchasing tickets, despite Amtrak’s “Student Advantage Card” being among available discount programs.

The Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission is a nine-state interstate compact that promotes, coordinates and supports regional improvements to passenger rail service.


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