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Lower gasoline prices and discounted airline fares have weakened demand for Amtrak and intercity express bus service over the past three years, according to a study released this week by DePaul University.The study by the university's Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development found that despite a recent increase in traffic, new service offerings have lagged and not kept pace with the nation's population growth.That result followed a period in which the passenger-rail system and express coach bus service offered new opportunities for travel between 2006 and 2015. "These services, provided by Amtrak, BoltBus, Megabus and other carriers, along with ambitious plans for high-speed rail service, raised hopes that the country was on the cusp of creating a more balanced transportation system," the study's authors wrote in their report. The study also shows: • Travelers face ground transportation gaps that make efforts to avoid driving between some cities more difficult than a few years ago. A slowing of investment in new routes as well as coach lines cutting their schedules have made it more difficult to avoid driving on many routes outside of the Northeast.• Among the short and long distance trips without rail or express coach service generating more than 1 million trips per year are Los Angeles-Phoenix; Cleveland-Detroit; Columbus, Ohio-Detroit; Chicago-Columbus; and Phoenix-San Diego. Eight of the 50 most heavily traveled routes in the 120-to-400 mile range without Amtrak or express coach service have lost that service since 2014.• Nine metro areas with populations of 700,000 or more lack any service by Amtrak or express coach lines. Those areas include Phoenix; Columbus and Dayton, Ohio; Tulsa, Okla.; and Fort Myers and Sarasota, Florida.The study concludes that practical steps should be taken to restore momentum to rail and bus travel that would require a small amount of public investment. Additionally, the study calls for initiatives that overcome a lack of institutional planning and investment that thwarts planning for rail services that cross state lines. Such efforts would help foster more fuel-efficient and comparatively safe forms of travel, the study concluded.
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