Free Wi-Fi Is Valuable, Say Riders on Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor

By Jamie KnappJ Knapp Communications

In today’s connected world, Wi-Fi is available almost everywhere, it seems. Free Wi-Fi, first offered in coffee shops and public buildings, is now ubiquitous in retail stores, hotels, airports and even on passenger trains in the U.S. and abroad.

Is it valuable? Yes, according to new UC Davis research conducted for the Amtrak Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority in Northern California.

The findings are described in a new ITS-Davis report, “Did Free Wi-Fi Make a Difference to Amtrak’s Capital Corridor Service? An Evaluation of the Impact on Riders and Ridership.” The report’s authors are Professor Patricia Mokhtarian, student researchers Amanda J. Neufeld and Zhi Dong, and post-doctoral researcher Giovanni Circella.

The researchers find that a majority of riders surveyed rank free Wi-Fi service as extremely important. This majority holds within each age group under 75. Free Wi-Fi service is especially important to commuters, 79% of whom accessed the Internet during their trip. The research attributes a 2.7% increase in round trips between 2011 and 2012 to free Wi-Fi aboard trains.

The UC Davis report outlines the survey methods, analytical approach, results and recommendations for further research. The researchers collected more than 1,500 passenger surveys over a three-day period onboard Capitol Corridor trains in March 2012, three months after Amtrak had launched its free Wi-Fi service on the route. Amtrak had previously introduced free Wi-Fi connectivity on trains in the Northeast Corridor and Pacific Northwest, and sought to evaluate its impact on passengers’ travel behavior.

The primary goals of the study were to assess riders’ reactions to the Wi-Fi service on board, to develop a model of the choice to use the free AmtrakConnect Wi-Fi, and to estimate the change in ridership due to the addition of free Wi-Fi.

Amtrak’s free Wi-Fi business model had predicted that a 1% to 2% inducement in ridership would offset its capital and operating costs.

“Our research indicates that free Wi-Fi has been a win-win – both as an amenity for Capitol Corridor riders and as a revenue-booster for Amtrak,” said Mokhtarian.

Read the full report, visit


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