The estimation of changes in rail ridership through an onboard survey: did free Wi-Fi make a difference to Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor service?

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - rail, place - north america, planning - surveys, ridership - growth, ridership - modelling


Transit (rail) ridership, Mobile internet, Wi-Fi, Public transportation, Onboard survey, Weighting, Travel multitasking


Amtrak launched free Wi-Fi internet service (“AmtrakConnect”) on all trains of the California Capitol Corridor route (CC) on November 28, 2011. In March 2012, an onboard survey was conducted to evaluate the impact of the Wi-Fi service on ridership. We develop descriptive statistics and estimate a linear regression model of the impact of Wi-Fi on passengers’ trip frequency. As higher-frequency riders are overrepresented in the original sample, we weight cases to reflect the distribution of passengers, rather than person-trips, more accurately. We segment the linear regression model for three groups of travelers, based on their ridership frequency, to better understand the impact of selected variables on the expected number of trips in 2012. Several conventional factors (trip frequency in 2011, trip purpose, station-to-station distance and employment) as well as Wi-Fi have some impact on the self-reported projected trip frequency in 2012. Using the estimated parameters from the model, the expected number of trips on CC trains for 2012 is 2.7 % higher than it would have been without free Wi-Fi. In particular, new riders expect to make 8.6 % more trips than if Wi-Fi were not available, while the expected number of trips made by lower-frequency continuing riders (those using CC less than once a week in 2011) and higher-frequency continuing riders (those using CC once a week or more in 2011) increase by 6.2 and 1.0 %, respectively.


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