Results of our Train and Bike Survey
A few weeks ago, we put up a survey that asked about your experiences with bikes and US-based long-distance trains. This wasn’t an “official” survey, it was our way of collecting some rough numbers and anecdotal evidence about multi-modal travel. We wanted to know what opinions folks currently have about train travel in the US (especially when combined with bicycles), whether there was any correlation with our own opinions, and what else we should be aware of or thinking about as we head off on our next trip.
The survey was up for five days and we collected 342 responses. Thank you to everyone who participated! Because neither of us is a statistician, there are a few holes in our data, and we later thought of several improvements that would have yielded a better depth of information. Nevertheless, the details that we gathered are quite fascinating, and will definitely be useful as we move forward.
So what did we find?
Of the responses we received, 80% had already taken a long-distance train trip in the US (defined as a non-commuter-rail, non-light-rail train trip), and only 2 people said they would not consider taking the train in the future. We take this to mean that, of the folks we sampled, most people are interested in the possibility of train travel in the US. And since most of the folks who probably heard about and acted on the survey are at least loosely connected to the cycling world, we’d like to think that this indicates an interest in the combination of bikes and train travel.
Continuing with the results, 48% of respondents had already taken a bicycle with them on a train trip, although only 39% of respondents had taken a bicycle on the train in conjunction with a bike tour (meaning that a good chunk of you take a bike with you for other reasons). Of those who hadn’t taken a bicycle with them already, 97% would consider doing so in the future.
Of the respondents who had taken a bicycle with them on a train trip, the majority had non-negative experiences (66% positive, 27% neutral). However, a fair number of respondents also said that the experience of taking a bicycle with them was “somewhat difficult,” which we take to indicate that a less-than-ideal experience was made more enjoyable by information or assistance received.
Of the responses we received, 90% claimed they would be more likely to take a long-distance train trip if it were easier to take a bicycle with them. This is an extremely subjective number, but we find it encouraging, and hope that it’s one to which Amtrak pays particular attention. As one might expect, preferences about how to make it easier to take a bicycle on a train were pretty evenly split.
And now for the write-in questions. The positive aspects of train travel predominantly focused on the ease and freedom of trains, the ability to relax, the enjoyment of watching the scenery, and letting someone else deal with the details. The negative aspects predominantly focused on the slowness and frequent delays, facilities which are run-down or lacking, higher costs compared to other transit, and the frustrations inherent in traveling with a bicycle. Of the words used to describe US-based long-distance train travel, the single most common word was: slow. Other common words were: adequate, inefficient, relaxing, under-appreciated, under-funded. In general, the descriptors tended to be negative, which may not be much of a surprise.
The answers that were most fascinating to us, however, were the ones to the question “What would you tell Amtrak if you knew they were listening?” These responses ran the gamut, with comments about bikes, customer service, food, on-board facilities, lobbying, track usage, and more. A few highlights are below, and we’ll be sharing each response with Amtrak (whether they want to know or not).
“Keep working on it, I know that their funding is sporadic and doesn’t lend itself well to long term strategic planning. But those of us that ride the rails want more and are willing to pay for it.”
“The bikes we bring with us aren’t just toys for playing with on vacation– they are how we get to the station (with our kids, luggage, and all) and how we will leave it. Please treat us and them with respect.”
“Don’t become the airlines. Be better. Less hassle, more comfort, better scenery, better experience. These are your strengths. Remember that and focus on that. And be nice to cyclists. They value these things.”
“There is a new generation out there that is looking towards a car-free future, and the ability to travel between urban centers. Cater and market to them.”
“Until passenger trains take priority over freight, train travel in the US will never be more than an occasional luxury. Amtrak needs to re-negotiate its rail access agreements or build its own rail network. There’s no way around that.”
“You have a huge untapped customer base that is dying to ride your trains more–make on-board, unboxed bicycle access easy and ‘they will come.’ There is a lot of wasted space on trains right now — think of that crazy ‘arcade car’ on some coast starlight train sets — that would be a fantastic first place to start accepting unlimited, unreserved, unboxed bicycles at ANY stop.”
“We really want you to be sucessful-don’t give up.”
Many thanks again to everyone who participate in the survey, and to everyone who forwarded the survey, posted it on facebook, re-tweeted it, and generally spread the love! Please feel free to chime in below and leave any additional comments about trains and bikes.
chad McQueen April 7, 2011 at 1:44 pm
I support bikes on trains. Sure its a bit slower but as a cycleist isn’t the journey just as important as the final destination? Allowing bikes on and off at all stops not just baggage stops would increase access and in turn riders, and revenue. We travel by rail to relax and meet new people, avoid the headaches of air travel and body searches.
Erik Sandblom April 12, 2011 at 7:33 am
Not all American trains are slow. The Acela does New York to Washington in 2 hours 48 minutes, which is an average of 130 km/h (81 mph). Top speed is 240 km/h (150 mph).
If you can show up 10 minutes before departure, a combination of train + bike can be very competitive, timewise. And it’s not stressful just because it’s fast.
Having said that, the meaning of life is not getting from A to B as fast as possible! 🙂
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[…] Results of our Train and Bike Survey | The Path Less Pedaled […]
Gary April 10, 2012 at 4:31 pm
You can make a train/bicycle trip easier if you own a fast folding bicycle like a “Bicycle Friday Tikit” or a “Bromley” then instead of baggage, it becomes “carry on” Which for a commuter makes up for the hassle of riding a small wheeled bicycle.
Stacy September 23, 2012 at 6:56 pm
When we were looking to book train travel we faced the idea of leaving our bicycles behind (b/c we couldn’t box them up, as they were our mode to get to the station, etc). Then realized we were going to have to leave our children (b/c we couldn’t rent child friendly wheels at the destination). In the end, we decided we would have to leave them both b/c of not being able to bring our family bike set up, and not being able to rent a family bike set up. Amtrak could have solved these problems with one seemingly simple policy change. Of course rental shops/bike shares could add family options too. Thanks for the survey, the post, and the continued advocacy.
curtis corlew August 5, 2013 at 10:09 am
Thanks for all this. My wife and I usually do an organized tour in the summer we end up driving to. But are we inspired by your stories to consider a bike/train trip. The things that hold us back are:
Do we really want to buy folding bikes? That’s a lot of cash, when we have bikes we love already.
Things seem to go wrong too often when you let other people handle bikes as luggage. A broken/lost/refused bike would pretty much destroy our trip.
If we could wheel our bikes onto a train and head out we’d be all over it.
Thanks again for your wonderful website.
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Thank you Russ & Laura for doing this.