Save Cornwells Heights
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
The Original Home of the Northeast Corridor Amtrak Monthly Pass Fare Fight
Schedule Change Set For Monday, October 30th
On October 30th, Amtrak will make its fall schedule changes throughout the entire Amtrak system. The only major change affecting Cornwells Heights will be the loss of Regional train 180 which arrives northbound at 7:39 a.m. on weekdays. In its place, and 17 minutes earlier, Keystone train 640 will stop at 7:22 a.m. That train is scheduled to arrive at New York's Penn Station at 8:26 a.m., also 17 minutes earlier.
The return schedule is substantially unchanged.
If you've been taking train 180, don't forget to arrive 17 minutes earlier as of the day before Halloween.
Monthly Passes To Increase By $54, from $882 to $936
On November 16th, Amtrak is expected to raise the price of a monthly pass from Cornwells Heights to both Newark and New York City to $936. That's a 6.1% increase, about 2% more than current year-to-year inflation.
You can save yourself $162 by buying your three monthly passes for December, January, and February before November 16th. Amtrak limits the advance purchase of monthly passes to three months.
Monthly passes from Phladelphia (PHL) to Newark and New York are expected to simultaneously go up $72 from $1,008 to $1,080, a 7.1% increase. Philadelphians can save $216 with a three-month advance pass purchase before November 16th.
One-Way Fares Increase By $3, From $49 To $52, Effective Immediately
Fares between New York and Cornwells Heights are now set at $52. The change was instituted yesterday, October 17th.
House of Representatives Backs 2007 Renewal of "Commuter-Killer" Law
Last year, the Senate Appropriations Committee proposed a "commuter-killer" clause in Amtrak's $1.4 billion subsidy package, threatening to take away funding if Amtrak charged less than 18 times the peak one-way fare for monthly passes. This law has forced Amtrak to raise Philadelphia-to-New York City pass prices, for instance, from $569 at the start of 2005 to $1,080 by the end of 2006, a 90% increase in price in less than two years, amounting to an "extra" $6,132 in commuting costs per year. (In the same period, Cornwells Heights went from $499 to $936, an 88% increase costing $5,244 more per year.)
Congress has also been directing Amtrak to squeeze every last penny of profit that it can out of its riders, regardless of the actual cost of supplying service. This is why one-way fares on the Northeast Corridor have gone sky high in the last few years – to prices that are triple the inflation-adjusted levels they were at in the 1960s. Amtrak is currently running an operational profit in excess of $10 million a month on its Northeast Corridor routes, which it uses to help subsidize money-losing routes elsewhere. Congress has further directed Amtrak to make as much money as it possibly can on the Northeast Corridor, regardless of actual costs of operation or the social consequences of pricing people off the trains and into cars. By indexing commuter fares to the peak fares on the Northeast Corridor, the ones that Amtrak is now raising as high as the occasional business traveler will bear for one-way travel, Congress is implicitly trying to gouge commuters off the rails.
So many job commuters (roughly half) have been forced off the rails in the last year that total commuter revenue is now substantially lower than it was prior to the huge increase. Hundreds of job commuters have been forced off the rails, and Amtrak's total revenue on its main commuter trains is flat or down from what it was a year ago. It is a classic case of Congressional mismanagement of the railroad through ridiculous, counter-productive micromanagement rules.
Until yesterday, I thought the "commuter-killer" clause was going to be removed from the 2007 funding package. I personally lobbied every single U.S. Senator's office to remove it this year, and it is, in fact, removed from the Senate's proposed subsidy package. I just found out yesterday, though, that the U.S. House of Representatives is proposing to renew the "commuter-killer" clause this year in its current draft version of the subsidy package. The differences in the Senate and the House versions of Amtrak's 2007 funding package law will be hashed out in a "conference committee" meeting between the two houses of Congress. That meeting will be held in the next month or two, and if the House gets its way, job commuters' monthly pass fares will continue to be indexed to the highest price Amtrak can get away with charging businessmen for one-way tickets on its Northeast Corridor routes, for at least another year.
If the Senate gets its way, however, Amtrak will, at minimum, not be forced to raise commuter fares every time it tests a new level of profit-gouging on businessmen who find it more convenient to take the train than to go to the airport. Amtrak currently charges up to 87 cents a mile for ordinary coach class travel between Philadelphia and New York. At that rate, you could drive four fuel-inefficient Hummers to New York for the same price in gas! It's only a matter of time before Amtrak, at Congress's insistence, sees if it can get away with charging a dollar a mile just to find out what the market will bear.
The prices job commuters are now paying for Northeast Corridor commuting are, adjusted for inflation, higher than what full, undiscounted one-way travel was in the 1960s.
The prices job commuters are now paying for Northeast Corridor commuting are, mile for mile, two to three times higher than what full-fare, undiscounted travel on Amtrak trains costs almost anywhere outside the Northeast Corridor.
The 18-hour, 959-mile ride from New York City to Chicago, for instance, is $80 at full fare. That's 8 cents a mile. But why pay so much?
Just say you have AAA and pay $72 instead! That's 7.5 cents a mile, a clean 77% discount off the 33.0 cents a mile Philadelphia-to-New York commuters pay now.
As of November 16th, Philadelphia-to-New York City commuters will pay $60 a day to get to and from work, $12 less than full-fare AAA riders pay for 5 times that same mileage to Chicago!
What You Can Do To Fight Continued Commuter Price Gouging
I've learned a few things about what works and what doesn't in lobbying Washington's politicians. Phone calls generally beat written notes, so call up your Senators and Represenative and let them know you don't want the "commuter-killer" clause to be renewed by the House when Amtrak's funding reaches the conference committee showdown between House and Senate.
Here's how you do it:
1) Call the Washington, D.C., offices of your two U.S. Senators and your U.S. Representative. Believe it or not, a real person usually answers the phone there!
|Senator Arlen Specter||
|represents all of PA|
|Senator Rick Santorum||
|represents all of PA, running for re-election|
|Representative Mike Fitzpatrick||
|represents mainly Bucks County + bits of NE Philadelphia & Montgomery County|
|Representative Allyson Schwartz||
|represents most of NE Philadelphia + much of Montgomery County|
2) Grouse briefly to the receptionist about the "commuter-killer law" that the House is trying to renew, and then ask to speak to the "transportation aide." (Receptionist grousing counts more than you might think!)
3) Grouse extensively to the transportation aide, either in person or via voice mail, and get plenty passionate that you don't want Congress to continue trying to throw job commuters off Amtrak's trains. Ask that the House's version of the "commuter-killer law" be blocked.
4) Cite the "commuter-killer"clause, one of the worst, most mean-spirited, anti-social pieces of legislation ever passed by Congress:
|"... Provided further, That none of the funds provided in this Act may be used after March 1, 2006, to support any route on which Amtrak offers a discounted fare of more than 50 percent off the normal, peak fare."|
This is the sentence Congress used to force Amtrak to kill off Northeast Corridor commuting in 2006 in Public Law 109-115, also known as H.R. 3058.
5) Mention that commuter fares already are so high that Amtrak is making less money from them this year than last, so Amtrak should actually reduce commuting fares now in order to make more money! We commuters are already above the full-fare ticket price of the 1960s! It doesn't take 33 cents a mile to carry a commuter on a train, but that's what we're paying right now! Job commuters now pay for their train mileage at rates two to three times higher than most full fares outside the Northeast Corridor!
6) Ask them to look at www.savecornwellsheights.com and www.senatorsonatrain.com to understand the whole dirty scandal of Washington politics that brought about the "commuter-killer law" in the first place. You can even mention that the guy who runs those websites (i.e. me) is writing a book about the scandal and the fight to save Northeast Corridor job commuting, and it won't look pretty for the bad guys when it comes out next summer.
7) Tell other commuters about this note and about the fact that the monthly pass fight is not over at all and is still, in fact, going on quite actively. If it's not fought in Washington right now, things will only get worse. Referring people to www.senatorsonatrain.com and www.savecornwellsheights.com helps keep up the buzz.
8) Check the websites every once in a while for news and further suggestions as to how you can fight back.
E-Mail Helps A Lot
I like to hear from people. The more e-mail I get with questions, suggestions, and personal stories that I can cite (anonymously, of course) to lawmakers and the press, the better. Feedback helps tremendously.
I expect to be back in Washington lobbying the cause in both houses of Congress very soon.
– Rick Booth, firstname.lastname@example.org