Friday, August 10

Riders "leaking" from MSN

From the WiSJ:

Despite dramatic improvements over the past three years — including a $65 million renovation and an expansion in the number of nonstop flights — more Madison area travelers are bypassing the Dane County airport to do their flying from Milwaukee or Chicago.

Here is the problem. The percentage of passengers who bypass the local airport to fly out of other cities is called "leakage." After the service improvements at the Dane County airport, the Madison area "leakage' should have declined. Instead, it increased.

Data from Mead & Hunt of Madison show that from late 2002 to late 2003, just over 63 percent of Madison area travelers chose to fly from the Dane County airport. Most of the rest used Chicago or Milwaukee airports.

From mid-2005 to mid-2006, after many of the airport improvements had been made, the percentage of passengers flying from the Dane County airport declined to just over 59 percent.

The percentages of local passengers flying from Chicago and Milwaukee were up.

Last year I flew in and out of Madison, both times the other terminal was O'Hare to connect to go elsewhere. The Dane County airport is very pleasant and hassle-free, especially considering that there isn't much of a line in Madison to go through the same security as in Chicago.

A flaw in Madison's airport has to be this, which I experienced first hand: it's a bit isolated. I flew back on a Sunday and stopped by the info desk to ask where the bus stop was. I was quite surprised to find that the bus doesn't go to the airport on weekends. (The taxis must have a good lobby.) On weekdays between 6:30 am and 10:55 pm, it stops twice an hour in the morning and afternoon rush, and hourly during the day. I then had to pay $14 to split a cab instead of using my $600+ buss pass (see "segregated funds") to ride for free.

The lack of bus connectivity probably doesn't affect most Madisonians. They either park or ask a friend or family to stop by and pick them up. However, I imagine with a major university here, a lot of potential fliers are foreigners, especially foreign students, and students headed abroad. Coach bus tickets from Memorial Union to O'Hare run about $20 and are probably round trip.

Looking up the flight from MSN to ORD on the airfare websites shows that that a ticket is roughly just under $300, one way. I think flying to Madison or taking the bus would be a wash. After paying hundreds to fly international and spend hours on planes, I'd probably take the bus and save some money. By bus it's about 2.5 hours on 135 miles of I-90, but I had to wait that long in O'Hare for the 25 minute flight to Madison anyway.

In the end, Madison has too small of a market and is just too close to one of the biggest airports in the world to directly compete with it. However, Madison seems to be a better option for flights that go to cities a few states states away in the South or on the East Coast.

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