Experiment Forced on VIA Rail Flops.
It’s a simple truth: cost-cutting won’t take you to prosperity; it just buys more time.
That’s certainly true when it comes to passenger rail. Politicians in the U.S. have bullied and badgered Amtrak into cutting costs and, while the gap between losses and break-even has narrowed a bit, the REAL results have been an erosion of employee morale, some decline in the level of service, and a slight-but-noticeable slippage in the variety and quality of food served in the dining cars. What HAS gone up is an awareness on the part of many sleeping car passengers that we are being nickel-and-dimed.
It’s astonishing that people who consider themselves savvy at business keep making the same mistake over and over again. They still don’t acknowledge that when it comes to passenger rail, the more you cut, the more you lose.
VIA Rail in Canada has just discovered this fact of railroading life. Well, actually, the professional railroaders at VIA Rail knew it all along. It’s the big shot, know-it-all conservative politicians who are learning a hard lesson the hard way. That is, assuming they actually care.
It all began four years ago and involves one of VIA Rail’s storied trains, the Ocean, which ran overnight six days a week between Halifax on the Atlantic coast and Montreal. But it was operating at a loss, so the geniuses in the government pressured VIA to run the Ocean THREE days a week instead of six. I don’t know what they expected, but I can’t believe they were prepared for the actual result: the Ocean is losing more money per passenger running three days a week than it did when it ran six days a week. A lot more.
Back in 2011, the Ocean lost 55 cents on every passenger it carried. Today, on a reduced schedule and with lower operating costs, the loss has increased to 93 cents per passenger. The reason, of course, is because the three-day-a-week schedule is much less convenient, so fewer people are taking the train. That, unfortunately, was a 100-percent predictable outcome. Railroad people have known basic truths like that for more than a hundred years.
Government, as well as the quasi-private institutions it creates—VIA Rail and Amtrak, for example—can and should be run efficiently. But they cannot be run “like a business.” Any politician who spouts that line of B.S. doesn’t understand that the role of government is to provide basic services that private enterprise can’t or won’t provide … and decent public transportation for as many citizens as possible should be at or near the top of that list. Clearly, the current Canadian government doesn’t understand that.
But then, of course, neither does our Congress.