It won't be long before transportation officials have a better idea who would ride commuter trains in the Kansas City metropolitan area.
A survey the Mid-America Regional Council sent in early December to residents in Lawrence and other communities in the region is one more tool to gauge support for a proposed commuter rail line connecting downtown Kansas City, Mo., with surrounding cities.
"It's kind of narrowing our focus a little more," said Darryl Fields, project manager for the Commuter Rail Feasibility Study.
MARC officials already have conducted several community forums including one in Lawrence to discuss the rail line's feasibility. But the survey by ETC Institute, an Olathe market research firm, should produce more solid demographic data and measure the enthusiasm of a broader audience.
"Normally what happens at community meetings is you get people who are really active in the community or have really made it a concern of theirs," Fields said. "This survey wants to get a feeling from people who it's not high on their priority list a general feel from the general public about their feelings on commuter rail."
The 23-question survey was sent to a random sampling of potential riders along each of the three proposed corridors from Topeka through Lawrence to downtown Kansas City; from downtown Kansas City to Oak Grove, Mo.; and from downtown Kansas City to Pleasant Hill, Mo.
It included questions about commuters' typical modes of transportation and route to work; if and how often they'd use a commuter rail service; who should be responsible for developing and funding the service; whether they'd be willing to devote tax dollars to the rail's development; and general demographic information.
Chris Tatham, a vice president at ETC Institute, said 900 surveys went out and that response has been "really high" between 30 percent and 40 percent.
Though the survey itself is complete, he said, it will take several weeks for researchers to tabulate the data.
The results will help Fields and his feasibility study team devise their final recommendation to the MARC board by the end of March or early April.
The big question is who's going to pay for the rail system. Fields said a bi-state tax was one option, with Kansas and Missouri state governments possibly contributing additional funds.
Fields said people often confuse commuter rail with light- or heavy rail, each of which require their own dedicated right of way. But commuter rail works on existing rail lines such as the Union Pacific line north of the Kansas River or the Santa Fe line south of the river thus decreasing start-up costs, Fields said.
Commuter rail lines would run only during peak service times morning and evening rush hours, Fields said.
He said the idea of regional commuter rail had been well-received in Lawrence and the other communities it would serve.
"People want to see a change in the existing transportation system. They want to see different options," he said. "Instead of waiting in traffic to get somewhere, you can have a cup of coffee, plug in your laptop and not have to sit in traffic and worry if you're going to make it on time."