March 8, 2006
The Honorable Shelley Taub, Chairperson
Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation
Michigan House of Representatives
Re: Testimony of Michael J. Whims
Honorable Chairperson and Subcommittee Members:
My name is Michael J. Whims and I am Chairman of the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers. I am a resident of Royal Oak, Michigan.
The Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers (MARP) is a statewide member based non-profit organization representing Michigan rail passengers for the past 33 years. Our mission is to educate the public and officials about the benefits of Michigan’s passenger rail service and connecting intercity bus and transit services, and to work toward improving and expanding this service to meet the public’s transportation needs.
The purpose of my testimony today is to provide an interim report of a statewide rail passenger survey that MARP is conducting, which is designed to understand better who takes Michigan’s two state-funded trains, and why they are using the trains as a travel mode.
The passenger survey is a written survey being conducted by MARP Executive Committee members at selected stations along the Blue Water and Pere Marquette routes. Passengers are informed that we are conducting the survey to help MARP in its mission. The survey takes less than 2 minutes for passengers to complete. We plan to conduct 1,200 surveys this spring, at four stations.
Tabulation has been completed for 300 surveys taken at the Flint station along the Blue Water route and 300 surveys taken at the Holland station along the Pere Marquette route. Surveying has been conducted throughout the week to get a representative sampling of weekday and weekend riders. We are currently conducting surveys at Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids.
Although the project is not finished, there are some trends that appear to be consistently evident from the 600 completed surveys already. I would like to share those with the Subcommittee this morning.
Each passenger is asked to provide a residence zip code. A total of 174 zip codes were reported by the 600 passengers surveyed at Flint and Holland. Of these, 68 were out-of-state or foreign zip codes, representing over 15% of the passengers surveyed.
The in-state zip codes show a wide geographic draw of ridership, well beyond the metro area of each station. Passengers come from beyond the “thumb” area for the Flint station and as far as from Traverse City for the Holland station.
A key question posed by the survey is the primary purpose for this travel. The single greatest reason given was for family gatherings and visits, accounting for over one-third of the total responses. Vacations / sight-seeing trips, and business / student commuting trips account for about 30% each. Shopping trips account for about 5% of the travel.
The interim results discussed in my testimony today are only a part of the overall information being gathered. MARP will be happy to share the full results of our survey when completed this spring. Because of the consistency of results being seen between Flint and Holland, we expect to continue to find at the other surveyed stations that a significant percentage of out-of-state residents are using Michigan’s trains. This is despite the fact that the train schedules are designed for Chicago-bound day trips. These out-of-state passengers bring revenue to Michigan businesses. Michigan should promote this travel more through Midwest marketing efforts and improved train scheduling.
Again, because of consistency of reported travel purpose already seen, we expect similar results at the other surveyed stations. The split appears to be fairly even between trips taken that unite families, those taken for personal enhancement, and those taken for personal enjoyment. The ever-increasing ridership attests to a growing public desire to use Michigan’s trains for this meaningful travel. To do this, passengers want and expect fully-funded passenger rail service.
On behalf of MARP, I wish to thank Chairperson Taub and Subcommittee members for the opportunity to speak today. I will be happy to answer questions.
Michael J. Whims
Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers