Effect of rising gas prices on Amtrak ridership in summer of '22

Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

rs9

Service Attendant
Joined
Dec 26, 2021
Messages
202
Location
Chicago
Does anyone have an opinion on whether or not rising gas prices will result in an increase in Amtrak ridership during the peak summer vacation months? (Out here in East San Diego County, gas is selling for over $5 a gallon!)

My guess is people who can't afford increases will simply drive less or take shorter/closer to home vacations. I'm not sure how many people would think of Amtrak for vacation travel to start with, but I could be wrong on that. I think people consider fly or drive, and that's it.
 
Joined
Jan 9, 2021
Messages
880
Location
Boston
I think given the right circumstances, it could definitely increase ridership around the NEC, assuming they have promotions and good advertising. If the new Acelas arrive at least some time soon, which is unlikely, that will help too!

I think it’s unlikely that it will have any effect anywhere else. The train, as an option of travel, doesn’t really occupy the public imagination in the rest of the country, with a few mild exceptions.

The most likely outcome of high gas prices is less driving, but not necessarily alternative travel modes.
 
Joined
Jul 16, 2010
Messages
4,884
Unfortunately, my experiences when talking to 90+% of American travelers is that Amtrak is not even a thought in their minds when it comes to travel. It is either pane or car but never train. So my reply is that there will be little, if any, effect on Amtrak travel if prices go up but it might encourage some commuters to take transit instead of driving.
 

jruff001

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 23, 2020
Messages
351
Historically I seem to recall that a sustained, significant increase in gasoline prices has resulted in higher Amtrak ridership.

So my guess is Yes (assuming there is indeed a sustained, significant increase in gasoline prices, as assumed in the question).
 
Joined
Sep 2, 2021
Messages
1,009
Location
Lubec, ME
I think so. A lot of times people will compare Amtrak fares to the cost of driving. If they found driving to be cheaper, it's always because they ignored every cost of driving other than gas. Now, we have crossed the point where gas alone is more than an Amtrak coach fare.
True that most people only think of the cost of gas and tolls when considering the cost of a trip where the cost of car ownership per mile is much higher ($20k car driven 200k miles = 10 cents a mile just for wear and tear, add in repairs, tires, insurance ...). All of the factors that affect total cost of car use are increasing - tried to buy a new or used car recently? I think in the medium to long term this will have an effect, especially in places with a decent rail infrastructure (NEC, Chicagoland, Cslifornia).
 

MARC Rider

Engineer
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
5,216
Location
Baltimore. MD
If you're taking a 1200 mile road trip and your car gets 30 mpg, you're going to be using 40 gallons of gas. At $3.00 a gallon, that will cost $120; at $3.50 a gallon, that will cost $140; at $4.00 a gallon, it will cost $160. Compared to the cost of lodging, meals, etc. on a typical vacation trip, the extra $20 - $40 for gas is small change.

We are considering taking the train to Boston and getting our car there for our summer trip to Maine this coming summer, but that's not to save on gas, rather it's to avoid the very stressful drive through the Northeast from our home. Also, if we take the Acela, we can probably get up to the cabin in a single day, thus saving lots of $$$$ on lodging. You wouldn't believe the prices of hotels and motels in the Northeast during the summer, even in places far outside of the big cities.
 
Joined
Jan 9, 2021
Messages
880
Location
Boston
If you're taking a 1200 mile road trip and your car gets 30 mpg, you're going to be using 40 gallons of gas. At $3.00 a gallon, that will cost $120; at $3.50 a gallon, that will cost $140; at $4.00 a gallon, it will cost $160. Compared to the cost of lodging, meals, etc. on a typical vacation trip, the extra $20 - $40 for gas is small change.

We are considering taking the train to Boston and getting our car there for our summer trip to Maine this coming summer, but that's not to save on gas, rather it's to avoid the very stressful drive through the Northeast from our home. Also, if we take the Acela, we can probably get up to the cabin in a single day, thus saving lots of $$$$ on lodging. You wouldn't believe the prices of hotels and motels in the Northeast during the summer, even in places far outside of the big cities.
Where in Maine do you go?

I think this question depends considerably on where you are in the country.
 
Joined
Jan 20, 2016
Messages
606
Location
East San Diego County
My “take away” from the comments that have been posted so far is that:

1. There is some historical precedent for raising gas prices encouraging people (particularly those who don’t like to fly) to at least consider the train for their long-distance travel.

2. It remains to be seen if Amtrak management will take advantage of rising gas prices to aggressively promote long-distance train travel to the general public and then follow through by ensuring that the necessary equipment (in good working order and properly staffed) will be available to meet an increased demand for tickets on its long-distance trains.
 

Joe from PA

Service Attendant
AU Supporting Member
Joined
Jan 24, 2022
Messages
218
Location
Philadelphia
Does anyone have an opinion on whether or not rising gas prices will result in an increase in Amtrak ridership during the peak summer vacation months? (Out here in East San Diego County, gas is selling for over $5 a gallon!)

Please don't confuse California with the rest of the country.🤣
 

west point

Engineer
Joined
Jun 9, 2015
Messages
3,765
Location
SW ATL airport
Notice how this discussion resembles that of Amtrak operating costs plus fixed allocated costs?
Most persons still do not realize the total operating costs of an auto.
1. FIXED COSTS
1. How do pay for your auto?
a. do you pay cash for the car? If you do you have to count the lost money of not being able to invest that money.
b. If you finance your car then the interest either stated or hidden comes into your equation.
c, Car tags and taxes. Taxes some places depend on age
d. Base insurance costs
e. Meals mostly fixed as need them every day.

2. Operating costs
a. Insurance operating costs based on number of miles driven.
b. Gas, oil, tires, other liquids
c, Stay at enroute motels. Maybe yes maybe no. If the vacation time is fixed that reduces end of trip time then the enroute meals and stays are not operating costs. Otherwise they count.
d. Do you replace car on fixed time intervals (Calendar or end of warranty for example) or on mileages? Fixed time then the mileage does not count.
d. Occasional breakdowns or accidents. Cannot quantify.
e. Mental costs of driving or not. Another non quantifying different for each of us.
 
Joined
May 24, 2012
Messages
14
Location
BYN
I believe it depends on how far away you are from an Amtrak station on both ends of your trip and do you need a car when you get to your destination.
We visit my wife's family every year. It is a 1,067-mile drive one way. It is about 14 hours and 15 minutes for the drive not including fuel stops. With traffic I usually make it in 16 hours although it has taken as much as 21 hours. Plus our car gets around 48 mpg highway.
If we take Amtrak it is a four-hour drive to the Amtrak station. I would want to arrive two hours early just to be safe. Then the first train is 19 hours and 30 minutes. I would have a 7-hour layover in Chicago followed by a 6 hour 30-minute train ride. Then a 30-minute drive from the Amtrak station to the cottage.
Fuel prices would have to really increase to make Amtrak a good alternative.
I used to live in a town that had an Amtrak station. I could drive to the station in under 10 minutes. In that case depending on where I was headed, I would take the train. No fuel, no wear and tear on the car, no tolls and not dealing with traffic.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Aug 8, 2015
Messages
3,970
Location
Los Angeles
My guess is people who can't afford increases will simply drive less or take shorter/closer to home vacations. I'm not sure how many people would think of Amtrak for vacation travel to start with, but I could be wrong on that. I think people consider fly or drive, and that's it.

I plan most of my vacation around some kind of train travel. Travel to fly home or vice versa.
 

Willbridge

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
AU Supporting Member
Joined
Mar 30, 2019
Messages
2,061
Location
Denver
I've been through the gas price cycles since 1973. If they last for a month or so they start affecting transit and intercity rail and bus transportation. It's harder to spot now than it used to be, thanks to pricing. In 1974, Greyhound was running three sections on the overnight PDX<>SFO schedule that imitated the Cascade or the early Coast Starlight. Now they would just begin raising fares. Similarly, Amtrak fares may move into the top buckets for a long period of time.

In transit planning, we found that there is a time lag before behavior changes, apparently due to people not paying attention till they get their credit card bill. Local routes aren't affected as much as long, highway coach routes. On long routes, commuters tend to begin looking at extending the lifespan of their car/s because they (the cars AND the people) can see them wearing out. Advertising aimed at that group of customers can be effective if overhead costs are brought up.

There are a lot of ways of saving on gas that people will try when alternatives are poor or non-existent. On our 2008 expedition to study the Pioneer route stations, my companion figured out that in rural areas couples had swapped cars. The husband was driving his wife's sedan and she was running errands with his big pick-up or SUV.

As prices peak or as supplies evaporate, political voices are raised to shrill levels. Then when serious steps are being taken (domestic production, approvals of transit and rail projects, etc.) the prices level off and in the third year, more studies are demanded. A few projects proceed, but most go back to wheel-spinning.
 

peteypablo

Train Attendant
Joined
Jul 17, 2015
Messages
67
I'm living in Italy right now, where they have excellent high speed rail, with two competing companies, very good regular rail, and moderately good metro and bus service. Gasoline is about $7 per gallon. I'm sure that a larger proportion of the population uses mass transit than in the USA, but there are still a lot of cars here, and the numbers are increasing.

I did a quick "back of the envelope" calculation. Italy is about six times as densely populated as the USA. There are some geographic realities about rail service in the USA that are not obvious, but are nevertheless present.
 

Anderson

Engineer
Joined
Nov 16, 2010
Messages
9,851
Location
Virginia
Looking back to 2008, my guess is that yes, it will result in at least a bump. Now, that's coming off of a lousy 2020-21, and there's the question of how much equipment will be available (since there are all sorts of issues building up on the equipment side...idle cars not kept in good shape from the 2020-21 3x/weekly mess, for example). But I suspect that, especially if it seriously impacts airfares as well (and those are still squeezed due to a lack of business travel), this will drive at least some ridership.
 

MARC Rider

Engineer
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
5,216
Location
Baltimore. MD
You can probably arrive mere minutes before an Amtrak train generally. Maybe a little bit earlier at big stations (around 20 - 30 minutes or so - some large stations do cutoff boarding a couple minutes before departure so you do have to be careful at those stations.)
I have cut it so close that I've actually purchased my ticket with the app while sitting on the train. :) You gotta be fast to do that in Baltimore, because almost as soon as the strain starts moving, it enters a tunnel, and then there's no cell or wifi signal for a while.
 
Joined
Oct 16, 2018
Messages
2,711
Location
12 miles from Walt Disney World
Why would you need that much time?
OP said it's a 4-hour drive, so allow some time for traffic delays.

I think most stations require baggage to be checked 30 minutes before scheduled departure, although some probably are less strict than others.

At some stations with limited parking (like Orlando or Winter Park FL), you might arrive at the station 15 minutes before departure and find yourself without a parking space. At Kissimmee, there's plenty of parking but it's in a municipal garage across the tracks, so you need to park your car, walk to the station, wait for the agent to give you a parking permit, walk back to your car to put it on the dashboard, and walk back to the station.
 

Train3414

Train Attendant
Joined
Feb 6, 2022
Messages
45
Location
Los Angeles, CA
I have cut it so close that I've actually purchased my ticket with the app while sitting on the train. :) You gotta be fast to do that in Baltimore, because almost as soon as the strain starts moving, it enters a tunnel, and then there's no cell or wifi signal for a while.
If you want to be really last minute sometimes the conductor will sell you a ticket on the train (although you will pay for the privilege and a ticket is not guaranteed.)
 
Top