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Study suggests that rising technology use is good for commuter rail

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A Metra train, passes through downtown Chicago.Photograph by Raymond Boyd — Getty Images

A report issued this July by the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University suggested that the rise in personal technology use by Americans is good news for rail transit. While spending time commuting to work on public transportation used to be considered wasteful, the increasing prevalence of technology means that taking a train can often be more productive for a commuter than driving.

The Technology in Intercity Travel survey found that the percentage of people engaging with personal technology at randomly observed times on the Chicago Metra has increased for the fifth consecutive year–to 56.2% in 2015 from 25.6% in 2010. Devices such as e-readers and tablets have become more popular too–rising from 4.9% of passengers at random observed intervals in 2012 to 9.6% in 2015.

In all, the report found that more than three times as many commuters in 2015 are using technology in a way that would illegal while driving, compared to 2010.

“The data does suggest that fundamental changes are taking place in consumer perceptions about the desirability of traveling by rail,” the report says. “The growing dependence on personal electronic devices appears to have altered the perceived ‘disutility’ of spending time in a seat.”

And even after fares increased 25% in 2012, ridership of the Metra continues to grow.