Amtrak Backs Down on $25,000 Fee for a $16 Ticket

What was quoted as a $25,000 fee for a trip that ordinarily costs $16 landed Amtrak a lot of unflattering headlines recently.

And when the dust had settled the passengers got tickets for the regular price while Amtrak wound up with a black eye.

The story involved a group of 10, five of whom use wheelchairs, who wanted to book a trip from Chicago to Normal, Illinois, to attend a conference.

When the passengers, one of them the CEO of Access Living, which news reports described as a Chicago disability service and advocacy center, contacted Amtrak they were told their tickets would incur a $25,000 fee to cover the expense of removing coach seats to accommodate the group.

Amtrak coaches used on Lincoln Service trains have spaces for one wheel chair, which meets the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Lincoln Service trains typically have three coaches.

Access Chicago member Adam Ballard told National Public Radio that in the past Amtrak had with advance notice removed seats in a coach or put the group in a café car and charged them a few hundred dollars extra.

The $25,000 price was given to the group by an Amtrak group sales agent.

Amtrak said said the alternate would be for the group to travel on separate trains scheduled three hours apart.

The group said doing that would mean some of its members would arrive at the conference late or would incur the cost of overnight lodging if they had to travel the day before the conference was to begin.

Amtrak initially told NPR that the $25,000 charge reflected a new policy of “an additional fee when any group requires reconfiguration of our railcars.”

After NPR broadcast the story it got picked up by other news outlets and also drew the attention of U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois who lost both of her legs while serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq after the Blackhawk helicopter who was co-piloting was shot down.

Duckworth called the fee outrageous and demanded a meeting with Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson.

She also Tweeted that it was “disappointing that Amtrak leadership appears to have failed to offer a public apology for its initial mistake.”

Duckworth is the ranking minority member of the Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation.

She said on Twitter that she wanted to discuss with Anderson “eliminating Amtrak’s nationwide policy of refusing to absorb any costs associated with reconfiguring a railcar to accommodate a group of wheelchair users.”

Two senior Amtrak executives later contacted an attorney for Access Chicago and offered to find extra space aboard a train to accommodate the group.

Amtrak also offered to allow two passengers to ride for the regular price of one ticket.

Although Access Living accepted the offer another complication arose when Amtrak learned that another disability group was sending staff to the same conference and had two wheelchair users who wanted to take the same Lincoln Service train.

Amtrak agreed to find space for all of them, apparently by taking one coach out of service and removing some of its seats.

Access Living had contacted Amtrak last month to request accommodations for its group.

When it protested the $25,000 charge, the agent wrote back and said the fee was in line with Amtrak policy about reconfiguring a rail car.

“With the removal of seats, it can be quite costly,” the agent wrote.

The agent acknowledged that in previous years Amtrak had removed seats and absorbed the cost of doing so.

“We understand and appreciate your loyalty with Amtrak,” the agent said. “Going forward, we cannot continue to absorb these fees. These policies have changed nationwide as of 2019.”

Bridget Hayman, a spokeswoman at Access Living said that although her organization appreciates that its members will all be able to ride Amtrak at no additional cost, what is needed is a long-term solution so that Amtrak won’t charge those high fees in the future.

In a statement, Amtrak said it would review its policy and meet with Duckworth.

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2 Responses to “Amtrak Backs Down on $25,000 Fee for a $16 Ticket”

  1. Rail Provocateur Says:

    Just as Boeing’s rancid corporate culture over emphasizing cutting cost was firmly exposed over the 737 MAX fiasco, by connecting the dots, we are witnessing a highly problematic, persistently decaying corporate culture at Amtrak.

    The repetition compulsion for Amtrak’s culture to fail is explained simply due to the lack of a dedicated, knowledgeable CEO, supported by competent, experienced management with hands-on knowledge running passenger trains. This failed culture is further exacerbated by an indifferent Board of Directors lacking any aspect of skills and knowledge as required by the initial Railpax legislation. Lacking Board stewardship and the oversight of Congress, the end results should not be shocking.

    For those who have been gandy dancer pundits pointing out Amtrak’s foibles over the decades, it is with certainty that the issues to horribly over-charge wheelchair bound customers, refuse service to coach passengers on Eastern dining cars, and penalize customers changing tickets would never have occurred under the leadership of Amtrak’s renown CEO, W. Graham Claytor, 1982-1993. Mr. Claytor was a highly educated, Southern gentleman who would have never tolerated such abusive, racist policies.

    Demanding Seat Change: The lady from the NAACP traveling home to Baltimore from Washington was victimized by an illicit, uncontrollable negative attitude apparently encouraged, if not, tolerated at Amtrak. Although we still cannot confirm if this was a business class car with reserved seating, or a thru coach, or whatever, does it matter? The lady was traveling to Baltimore-the verynext stop. Why does everything Amtrak do have a racial spin to it?

    Ironically, Amtrak has continued to fail to explain why passengers are chased out of the Sightseer Lounge on the “Empire Builder” to accommodate passengers boarding in North Dakota. Whatever happened to operating a dedicated coach for “shorts”?

    Wheelchair Customers: if they cannot depend upon a publicly supported transport mode as Amtrak, who should they turn to to ensure they can appropriately maintain their life? I would recommend that Congress request Amtrak to appear and breakdown its accounting methodology to convince all that it really costs $25-$50,000 to accommodate customers in wheelchairs. Actually, this reminds me of the snowflake Amtrak accounting re PRIIA and full allocation of costs. In essence, Amtrak’s CEO and management group should be required to donate their bonus to a fund that ensure’s all such customers are accommodated without hitting them with such outrageous, needless costs.

    Dining Car Restriction: Despite this nation deciding to embrace civil rights in the legislation of the 1960s and to do away with service restrictions, we have Amtrak re-introducing the Sunshine Laws to prevent access for coach customers (i.e., minorities) to the new dining car program in the East; defying the 1950 SCOTUS decision of Henderson v. U.S. by refusing to seat coach customers (i.e., minorities) at tables in the new dining car program. We all know how limited table seating exists in the cafe car; how T&E crew take-up two tables; how difficult it is to meander through cars on a moving train.

    Ticket Change Restriction: Perhaps as a final gasp at hitting customers, Amtrak also seeks to squeeze its customers for extra charges should they be required to change their tickets. What happened to the ease of taking the train midtown to midtown?

    As Congress ramps up a review and continuation of the FAST program, it is high time for Congress to insert itself and provide some moral relief-and expectations-for Amtrak. No longer does Amtrak enjoy a CEO conversant with the expectations of Congress; looking out for the best interests of his customers. That ended when Mr. Claytor left the scene in 1993.

  2. Rail Provocateur Says:

    Just as Boeing’s rancid corporate culture over emphasizing cutting cost was firmly exposed over the 737 MAX fiasco, by connecting the dots, we are witnessing a highly problematic, persistently decaying corporate culture at Amtrak.

    The repetition compulsion for Amtrak’s culture to fail is explained simply due to the lack of a dedicated, knowledgeable CEO, supported by competent, experienced management with hands-on knowledge running passenger trains. This failed culture is further exacerbated by an indifferent Board of Directors lacking any aspect of skills and knowledge as required by the initial Railpax legislation. Lacking Board stewardship and the oversight of Congress, the end results should not be shocking.

    For those who have been gandy dancer pundits pointing out Amtrak’s foibles over the decades, it is with certainty that the issues to horribly over-charge wheelchair bound customers, refuse service to coach passengers on Eastern dining cars, and penalize customers changing tickets would never have occurred under the leadership of Amtrak’s renown CEO, W. Graham Claytor, 1982-1993. Mr. Claytor was a highly educated, Southern gentleman who would have never tolerated such abusive, racist policies.

    Wheelchair Customers: if they cannot depend upon a publicly supported transport mode as Amtrak, who should they turn to to ensure they can appropriately maintain their life? I would recommend that Congress request Amtrak to appear and breakdown its accounting methodology to convince all that it really costs $25-$50,000 to accommodate customers in wheelchairs. Actually, this reminds me of the snowflake Amtrak accounting re PRIIA and full allocation of costs. In essence, Amtrak’s CEO and management group should be required to donate their bonus to a fund that ensure’s all such customers are accommodated without hitting them with such outrageous, needless costs.

    A multitude of similar problems of indicated below only further evidences a problem with Amtrak’s culture that did not exist before, including:

    1-Demanding Seat Change: The lady from the NAACP traveling home to Baltimore from Washington was victimized by an illicit, uncontrollable negative attitude apparently encouraged, if not, tolerated at Amtrak. Although we still cannot confirm if this was a business class car with reserved seating, or a thru coach, or whatever, does it matter? The lady was traveling to Baltimore-the verynext stop. Why does everything Amtrak do have a racial spin to it?

    Ironically, Amtrak has continued to fail to explain why passengers are chased out of the Sightseer Lounge on the “Empire Builder” to accommodate passengers boarding in North Dakota. Whatever happened to operating a dedicated coach for “shorts”?

    2-Dining Car Restriction: Despite this nation deciding to embrace civil rights in the legislation of the 1960s and to do away with service restrictions, we have Amtrak re-introducing the Sunshine Laws to prevent access for coach customers (i.e., minorities) to the new dining car program in the East; defying the 1950 SCOTUS decision of Henderson v. U.S. by refusing to seat coach customers (i.e., minorities) at tables in the new dining car program. We all know how limited table seating exists in the cafe car; how T&E crew take-up two tables; how difficult it is to meander through cars on a moving train.

    3-Ticket Change Restriction: Perhaps as a final gasp at hitting customers, Amtrak also seeks to squeeze its customers for extra charges should they be required to change their tickets. What happened to the ease of taking the train midtown to midtown?

    As Congress ramps up a review and continuation of the FAST program, it is high time for Congress to insert itself and provide some moral relief-and expectations-for Amtrak. No longer does Amtrak enjoy a CEO conversant with the expectations of Congress; looking out for the best interests of his customers. That ended when Mr. Claytor left the scene in 1993.

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