Ken- This is Tom Marchwinski of New Jersey Transit. As one of the few areas in the
country that actually has significant amounts of people using all of the rail modes under
discussion, and as one who makes use of the data from this question not just for modeling
but also to look at mode shares, and understand transit travel patterns and demographics,
I would like to weigh in on this. You should know that I approached FWHA about 8 years
ago on this very issue, and proposed that with all of the new Light Rail systems in the
US, including two new systems here in New Jersey (as well as having an older, pre-1945
trolley line, the Newark Subway now called Newark Light Rail)that it was time to have a
separate Light Rail mode question. However, as you indicate, it takes two years of
testing to get a question change, and nothing was advanced. So I am glad to see this
proposal finally come about. Here is some real world experience both with full census and
ACS in an area that has all of these modes.
1. I believe Light Rail, streetcar and Trolley should be a separate mode. If you want to
say "Rail- Light Rail, Streetcar and Trolley", that would be OK. Light rail is
running in so many regions now, and it really is a separate mode from the other two rail
types, both in terms of vehicle type, use in both mixed street and grade separation, and
also visibility, as well as type of seating in most cases.
2. Keep Subway/Elevated as a separate mode. "Rail- Subway/Elevated"
IF you want to add Metro, you could, but I would be very cautious about this. You should
survey how many agencies, including Bus Only systems call themselves Metro. I am
concerned that many survey respondents who take a system with the word "Metro"
in the title will see this response and assume it applies, when it may mean the name of
the system. As Wendell Cox indicated, Metro is not in common use in the US, and maybe this
could be tested as an addition by the Census . There could be a component of US born vs.
non-US born on this issue, so I think it can be tested, but I am wary of confusion with
system names that include Metro. Even in the DC area, "Metro" usually refers to
the subway system, but there is also MetroBus, and some people may get confused.
3. My Third Choice would be "Rail- Commuter or Long-Distance Railroad". I use
the word long distance rather than AMTRAK, since AMTRAK is technically a company name, and
who knows if it will be named that for 20 years, or even in operation. Using the word
"commuter" also is better because most new systems of this type are called
commuter railroad. Also, in an old system like we have in New Jersey , with over 250
commuter rail stations, census data still shows some confusion between
"Railroad" and "Subway/Elevated". In areas with no Subway in
proximity to the commuter rail stations, a significant number of people will check
Subway/elevated as a mode, so we have to add them together to get a commuter rail total.
By putting or at least testing the word commuter with railroad, it makes it clearer that
it is separate from Subway. I think this would help. Long Distance Railroad I think
also covers AMTRAK but makes it more generic, and does not tie answers to AMTRAK
I believe Light Rail should be separate because it really is different than either
commuter rail or subway. In Northern New Jersey , we have competition between subway
(PATH system) vs. commuter rail, and in limited circumstances Light Rail. Because we
have a historic trolley now light rail service in Newark, most people checked
"Railroad" or Subway /Elevated. Without the word light rail, very few people
check "trolley" for any of our three LRT Systems, which in addition to Newark
are Hudson Bergen Light Rail, and the River Line LRT in Southern NJ.
From what I have seen in ACS data, right now the ACS
understates transit ridership because many people do not know what to check. I have
tracked ACS data in areas where we opened new LRT service, and I have seen big jumps in
the "Other " category of mode data. This was most pronounced in Burlington
County along the River Line, and to some extent along the HBLR in Hudson County. So many
people today are checking "Other" since there is no LRT choice. The other item
people check is mostly Railroad along the Light Rail lines. This seems to be a default,
since Both River Line and HBLR have subway/elevated systems that people are familiar
with nearby , (PATH in North Jersey and PATCO In south Jersey). In any case, I would bet
if you look at where you have put in new LRT systems, that the percentage of
"Other" mode has increased by people putting in Light rail or checking other
because there is no choice listed today.
I would also strongly object to lumping all rail in one category. In areas like NJ, NY,
Philadelphia, Boston, etc, where there are multiple rail modes, we do use the differences
to estimate rail vs. LRT or rail vs. Subway/elevated submodal spilts. Granted it is more
difficult because of lower sampling, but our own survey data does show (and if you are
interested we can provide some of the details) that there are significant demographic,
choice, and submodal split differences that are important to maintain and understand. WE
need the current split of three rail modes to continue. As I indicated, having one for
LRT/Trolley, one for Subway/Elevated, and one for commuter rail etc. is the best way to
maintain both long term historic trend data and also detailed submodal data both for model
validation, demographics of riders, and understanding the types of issues we deal with on
a regular basis, as well as planning by some of the larger transit agencies such as NJ
My last comment is on the issue the we probably cannot change, which is the Census
insistence on using the "longest distance" mode as to which mode to pick. This
I believe is confusing, and we know it overstates auto usage in some areas, as we have
considerable long drive to transit trips. IF there was any way to test changing this to
ask if a person checked auto was transit used on any part of this trip, or to change to
restriction in some way I think that would help as well.
Finally, I do believe as one comment I saw said, that vanpool should be a separate mode.
I would ask it under auto where I believe the question is 7 or more persons in the auto,
to give two choices, one would be "Car or Truck, 7 or more persons, and then
Vanpool, 7 or more persons. NJT does subsidize vanpools, and getting a handle on this
would be useful.
IF needed, I can send a formal email to you with these comments, and also can offer some
other suggestions about where it would make sense to test these potential new wordings.
As I have indicated, we do have almost the full range of modes within our service area,
including ferry. In fact we have one of the few locations with commuter rail, Subway,
Light Rail, and Ferry at the same location (Hoboken Terminal). Tom Marchwinski, Sr.
Director Forecasting and Research , NJ TRANSIT
From: ctpp-news-bounces(a)chrispy.net [mailto:email@example.com] On Behalf Of
Sent: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 4:24 PM
Subject: [CTPP] American Commuter Survey (ACS): The Means of Transportation Question
As you may know, the Census Bureau's "means of transportation" question on
the current American Community Survey questionnaire (as well as the previous Census 2000
"long form") is as follows:
How did this person usually get to work LAST WEEK? If this person usually used more than
one method of transportation during the trip, mark (X) the box of the one used for most of
__ Car, truck, or van
__ Bus or trolley bus
__ Streetcar or trolley car
__ Subway or elevated
__ Worked at home
__ Other method
Here at U.S. DOT, we (meaning FTA, FHWA, and BTS) are discussing whether updated
descriptions might make more sense for the three public transportation categories
associated with use of rail:
__ Streetcar or trolley car
__ Subway or elevated
However, any changes to these three categories (or even collapsing these to a single
"rail transit" category) will, if ultimately approved for testing, require a
formal and carefully-controlled "ACS content change" test to be conducted by the
Census Bureau in 2013 and 2014. So this is a very big deal. If three rail-related
categories are maintained, here is one approach under consideration for future testing:
__ Streetcar or trolley rail
__ Subway, metro, or light rail
__ Commuter railroad or Amtrak
Or maybe a variation that makes it clear(er) each of these choices refer to a rail transit
__ Rail - streetcar or trolley
__ Rail - subway, metro, or light rail
__ Rail - commuter railroad or Amtrak
If you have any comments about what seems to make the most sense from the viewpoint of a
future ACS respondent and/or transportation data analyst, please send me an email and I
will summarize all comments received in a future email to this listserv (along with your
name as the author, unless you wish to be anonymous). But feel free to reply directly to
this listserv with your observations!
FTA Office of Planning and Environment
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