Aw, gee … now there’s another one. Congressman Phil Gingrey, a Republican from Georgia, has introduced a bill that would prohibit any federal dollars from being used to subsidize Amtrak’s food and beverage service.
Good heavens … where to begin?
Does Amtrak lose money on its food service? Of course it does. Serving an estimated 10,000 meals a day in rolling restaurants all over the country is just a wee bit more complicated and costly than serving up burgers and fries in your favorite local family restaurant.
The average passenger on one of Amtrak’s long-distance trains is aboard for about 18 hours and that translates to four meals. Obviously, passengers need to be fed and Amtrak can’t simply NOT feed them. Nor is it reasonable for passengers to be charged enough for Amtrak to cover the actual cost of feeding them. People will make allowances, but they expect some kind of appropriate value for their money … or they just won’t pay.
I’ve traveled a great many miles on Amtrak’s long-distance trains and can tell you that a majority of the patrons in the dining cars are sleeping car passengers. Their meals are included in their fares, but I can assure you, even with that being figured into the equation, you’re still paying top dollar when you book space in an Amtrak sleeping car.
For example, if you were to travel from Denver to Sacramento on the California Zephyr in the middle of next month, a coach seat would cost you $130. If you step up to a roomette, the cost of your ticket jumps to $616. That includes your room, plus two breakfasts, two lunches and one dinner.
But how likely would you be to make that trip if the hamburger at lunch cost $18.95 instead of $10.50? Or if the price of the roomette were raised to $790? Or, carrying this to an opposite, but equally impractical extreme, if there were no food service at all?
Here’s the unvarnished truth, put in the simplest possible terms by a bonafide authority on passenger rail: “If the dining cars go, the sleepers go. If the sleepers go, the big revenue goes. If the big revenue goes, Amtrak goes.”
So what are these bozos thinking … the Phil Gingreys and the Pete Sessions and the rest of these Republicans in Congress? Some of them know damn well that what they propose would mean the slow, but inevitable death of Amtrak. Some of them might actually believe that Amtrak can be badgered and threatened and bullied into profitability. Others are the ideologues who oppose any subsidy on philosophical grounds no matter the consequences.
The very kindest thing we can say about most of those people is that they haven’t bothered to learn enough about passenger rail to understand what it does or what it could do or why it’s important.
Then there are those who understand the implications of what they do, but do it anyway … because it means votes from their ignorant and misinformed constituents.
Lazy or sleazy. That’s not much of a choice, is it?