The newly funded 3C corridor rail service has been receiving a healthy dose of skepticism, including from the Dispatch story below. I’m very much in favor of the project, but I think debate of major public investments is a good thing that ultimately leads to better project outcomes.
So who’s going to take the train?
Even fans doubt slow travel times will attract riders
Saturday, January 30, 2010 8:47 AM
By James Nash and Marla Matzer Rose
The Columbus Dispatch
A business traveler hoping to take a train from Columbus to Cleveland would have to leave the capital city at 6:32 a.m. and wrap things up in Cleveland to catch the last train at 3:30 p.m.
That hypothetical passenger would end up spending 6 hours on the train, compared with less than six hours in Cleveland.
People wishing to catch the train from Columbus to Cleveland or Cincinnati for sports or other evening events are out of luck, unless they’re willing to stay overnight.
So just who’s going to use what’s being hailed as the greatest transportation innovation in Ohio in decades?
Nearly 500,000 people a year, according to Amtrak. Rail advocates say passengers would include college students, the elderly, people without cars, and business travelers who would work on their computers or phones while riding the rails.
…Fares are expected to be $18 to $25 for a one-way ticket between Columbus and Cleveland or Cincinnati.
Admittedly, the line will initially be relatively slow with travel times from Columbus to Cleveland scheduled to be 3 hr 13 min and from Columbus to Cincinnati in 3 hr 7 min. If the proposed schedule in the Service Development Plan remains unchanged, then it will also be somewhat inconvenient for business and entertainment purposes due to a failure to provide any evening departures later 4:15 PM from any of the cities. Since business and entertainment (especially sports) are two of the biggest potential markets for the service, I hope the proposed schedule will be changed and/or special trains will be added for events.
Nevertheless, I think there are still plenty of people who will benefit from this service. The Dispatch lists students, the elderly, business travelers, and people without cars as potential train customers. I would also add households with only one car. I know first-hand that if I were going on a trip, I would either take a train or bus to my destination or rent a car, leaving our one family car with my wife so she can still use it to get to work, take my son to daycare, and run errands. I decided to dig into the 2000 US Census data to find out how many households in the four major cities served by the line are either carless or have just one vehicle available. The data are as follows:
HH = Total households
0_VEH = Households with no vehicles available
PCT_0_VEH = Percentage of households with no vehicles available
1_VEH = Households with one vehicle available
PCT_1_VEH = Percentage of households with no vehicles available
What we find is that over 10% of the households in the four major counties with proposed rail stations have no vehicles available and nearly 40% have only one available. That’s nearly 800,000 households, or 18% of those in the entire state, that could potentially benefit from this service.
What about the elderly and students? The numbers really start to add up when you include them. The Census Bureau’s 2006-2008 American Community Survey data show the following population figures in the counties of interest.
The 677,198 elderly persons living in these four counties represent 5.9% of the state’s population (11,473,983). That number is of course growing too as baby boomers age. The college students in these four counties are an additional 2.5% of the state’s population.
These two tables make me think that Amtrak’s estimate of 500,000 passengers per year is very reasonable, if not too conservative. Not everyone in these groups will take the train. Many students have cars and many elderly can will still drive for years to come. To me though it is obvious that Ohio needs more transportation options for huge segments of the state’s population. The 3C quick-start plan is a great way to begin.