The problem with offering free WiFi to train customers is it’s hard to know how much they value it. Do they simply expect it to be there, as it is on many buses, in McDonalds eateries and even pubs? Or do they rush home, tell their friends and put their cars on e-Bay in order to fund greater train travel?
Most business analysts believe the truth lies somewhere in between. But, with so many other factors influencing people’s decisions whether to take trains or not: fuel price rises, congestion charges, traffic problems etc, it is very hard to separate out the effects of just adding free WiFi.
With this in mind, Jim Allison of CCJPA in the US, teamed up with Patricia Mokhtarian, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California Davis, to develop a major survey designed to give a definitive answer that would, hopefully, support the business case for free WiFi on trains. Jim will be one of the many train operators speaking at Train Communications Systems 2013, June 12th and 13th in London.
The UCD team specialise in the application of rigorous quantitative methods to the study of travel behaviour. Briefed by Jim, their goal was to find out if the recent addition of free Internet connections for passengers on the 32 daily Amtrak trains that run on the 170 mile inter-city Sacramento-Bay Area-Silicon Valley route had really encouraged more travel and, if so, by how much.
Using statistical tools and academic rigour Prof Mokhtarian’s team were able to isolate a figure for the increase in ridership that was solely down to trains having free WiFi. Jim revealed this figure at least year’s WiFi on Trains Conference and will be back this year with more information and experience – and ready to answer questions too.