Amtrak Experiment Makes No Friends.
We all know that Amtrak has been under relentless pressure to reduce costs. In particular, their food service operation has been targeted by Congressman John Mica (R-Florida), who continues to use the issue to meet his primary goal: media attention for himself.
Normally, dining car meals are included in fares paid by passengers traveling in sleeping cars, but as an experiment—and no doubt as a sop to Congressman Mica—about a month ago, Amtrak removed the dining car from the Silver Star, one of its two trains running between New York and Florida. Fares for sleeping car passengers on the train were reduced and all passengers—coach and sleeper—now get their food from a café car and they all pay for it.
Meanwhile, Amtrak’s other Florida train, the Silver Meteor, continues normal operations … that is, with a full-service dining car as well as a café car. Revenue figures and passenger comments for the two trains will be compared and conclusions drawn. Let us hope that after the trial period is over, and cool heads and common sense prevail, each train will again have both a dining car and a café car.
OK, how’s the experiment working out so far? Are sleeping car passengers happy with the microwaved sandwiches from the café car in exchange for substantially lower fares?
Uh … well, no. In fact, they seem to hate it.
The chairman of NARP’s board of directors, Bob Stewart, has just completed a trip on the Silver Star and he filed an extensive Trip Report. With Bob’s kind permission, here are a few excerpts:
Station agents in Tampa said they have received many complaints about the loss of the diner.
Except for two folks in the sleeper going short distances (West Palm to Orlando and Raleigh to DC) all passengers I talked to were not happy about the loss of the diner.
Both sleeping car attendants said about 80% of the customers complain to them about the lack of a diner. They have not seen an increase in serving passengers in their rooms, but have seen a decrease in tips.
The conductors said they have heard lots of complaints about no diner from passengers. Coach attendant said some coach passengers also complained about the lack of a diner.
That last comment—about complaints from coach passengers—is significant because they pay for their dining car meals. That means if, to save money, dining cars are removed from Amtrak long-distance trains in favor of café cars, calculation of results will have to include lost revenue from coach passengers.
Bob’s report concludes with the obvious: unhappy passengers don’t come back and, furthermore, they’ll tell their friends. He urges Amtrak to reduce the length of the experiment from seven months to 90 days.
So … Congressman Mica. Happy now?