Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak ticket agents’

Senator Presses Amtrak to Restore Ticket Agents

January 3, 2020

Montana Senator Jon Tester has asked Amtrak to restore ticket agents to two stations in his state as soon as possible.

Tester made the request of Amtrak President Richard Anderson in the wake of congressional approval of a fiscal year 2020 appropriations bill that included a policy rider that Amtrak restore ticket agents to some stations where they have been removed in recent years.

In Montana that includes Wolf Point, Havre and Shelby, all of which are served by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

The policy rider directs Amtrak to restore agents to sell tickets and provide customer service to stations that lost agents in 2018 if those stations served an average of 25 or more passengers a day. That would include Havre and Shelby.

In his letter to Anderson, Tester emphasized the importance of ticket agents at rural stations, saying they do more than sell tickets. They also help passengers board, handle baggage and provide information about their communities.

Amtrak policy requires that unaccompanied minors can only board an Amtrak train at stations with a ticket agent.

Amtrak said it removed ticket agents at some stations as a way to cut costs and to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

The passenger carrier has said that most of its passengers purchase tickets online.

In place of ticket agents, Amtrak has contracted with people who act as station caretakers who open the waiting room in advance of train time and keep it clean.

Amtrak has been loath to replace caretakers with ticket agents even in the face of a congressional resolution approved earlier.

Instead, Amtrak has argued that caretakers meet the requirements of congressional intent of having someone at a station who provides customer support but not the sale of tickets or the handling of baggage.

In some communities, volunteers provide information to passengers although they are not authorized to sell tickets.

Kalamazoo Ticket Office to Close Jan. 2

December 13, 2019

The notice said that passengers boarding at Kalamazoo without tickets who wish to pay cash on board may do so, but will pay at the highest published fare. Tickets are subject to availability.

The nearest staffed Amtrak station will be at Battle Creek, Michigan, which is open Sunday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Amtrak said those seeking travel for unaccompanied minors will need to travel to Battle Creek.

Kalamazoo is served by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains and the Blue Water.

It is also a connecting point for Amtrak Thruway bus service to northern Michigan.

Amtrak to Close Kalamazoo Ticket Office in Early 2020

December 10, 2019

Amtrak plans to close its ticket office in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in early 2020.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told a Kalamazoo TV station that the closure is being prompted by a decline in sales at ticket offices in favor of online purchases.

He would not comment on how many Amtrak employees will lose their jobs as a result of the closing but said in the past the carrier has given agents the option to transfer to other stations.

Amtrak has been closing ticket offices in the past two years, including offices in Michigan at Niles, Flint, East Lansing and Jackson.

Kalamazoo is served by eight trains a day, including Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service and the Chicago-Port Huron, Michigan, Blue Water.

None of those trains offers checked baggage or package express service.

The Kalamazoo station is a also a transfer point for Amtrak Thruway bus service to northern Michigan.

The Rail Passengers Association and Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers said it is working with Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation to develop a station host program for Kalamazoo.

A similar program exists in East Lansing and MARP said it has worked well.

Committee Says Amtrak Ignoring Congressional Intent

June 4, 2019

A House appropriations committee has criticized Amtrak for ignoring congress intent on such matters as long-distance trains and station agents.

The committee overseeing the Fiscal year 2020 bill appropriating money for transportation and housing called on Amtrak to maintain a national long-distance network that improves transportation options for rural areas and serves stations staffed with station agents.

The Rail Passengers Association reported that the language was included in a report in advance of a mark-up session for the bill set for today (June 4).

In the report, the committee also took aim at what it termed foot dragging on grants by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration.

The committee said that contrary to congressional direction DOT has set up new Amtrak grant conditions that would give the FRA too much influence over Amtrak’s capital spending decisions.

“[T]he Committee strongly reminds Amtrak that section 24701 of title 49, United States Code, requires Amtrak to operate a national passenger rail system. Further, the Committee directs Amtrak to seek any potential changes to the National Network through the reauthorization of the FAST Act, and urges Amtrak to ensure any such proposals also increase ridership in rural areas and improve service for long-distance customers.”

The report directs Amtrak to “conduct comprehensive outreach and consultation” with a range of stakeholders.

Lawmakers were apparently acting in response to reports that Amtrak wants to chop up long-distance routes into a series of short-haul corridors and/or discontinue service altogether on some routes.

The Trump administration in a budget proposal released earlier this year called for replacing long-distance trains with bus service.

“The Committee rejects this proposal and provides strong funding for Amtrak to continue to provide service through long-distance and state-supported routes.”

The administration has recommended a Restoration and Enhancement Grants program would be used to gut Amtrak’s national network in such a way as to make states pay for intercity passenger rail.

Amtrak has contended that it wants to increase service to under-served areas and start service in areas that now lack intercity rail passenger trains.

The House committee said this “could have unintended consequences for long-distance customers, especially in rural and small communities where passenger rail serves as an important mobility option and economic driver.”

In calling for Amtrak to do a better job of communicating with stakeholders, the committee raised concerns that the passenger carrier “continues to make and implement changes to operations and services without providing the public or its employees adequate time to understand proposed changes and provide feedback.”

It cited changes in rules pertaining to private railroad cars, station ticket agents, call centers, law enforcement, and food and beverage service.

The report calls for Amtrak to provide a station agent in each station that had a ticket agent position eliminated in fiscal year 2018.

It also expressed concerns with the way Amtrak has handled implementing and communicating its guidelines last year for private rail cars, saying the carrier “does not typically inform private car owners when a private car caused a delay to an Amtrak train.”

Amtrak Rejects Reinstating Topeka Ticket Agent

May 14, 2019

Amtrak has turned thumbs down on a request by the City of Topeka, Kansas, to reinstate a ticket agent at the city’s station.

City Manager Brent Trout was not surprised by that response but said the reasoning given wasn’t what he expected.

In his March 7 letter to Amtrak, Trout cited a clause in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019 that directed Amtrak “to provide a station agent in each Amtrak station that had a ticket agent in the fiscal year 2018.”

But Amtrak’s definition of a station agent varied greatly from that of Trout. As Amtrak sees it, having a caretaker who opens and closes and the station and keeps it clean enables the passenger carrier to comply with the law.

Trout had in mind someone who sells tickets and helps passengers board and disembark.

Topeka has that type of ticket agent until last year when the position was eliminated in a cost-cutting move that led to the removal of ticket agents in several cities across the country.

At the time, Amtrak said ticket offices in those cities sold too few tickets to justify the expense of maintaining them. The carrier said most passengers now make reservations online and either print their own tickets or present them to the conductor on a smart phone.

“It was a little surprising,” Trout said. “I thought the (legislative) language was clear, but they (Amtrak) view different positions in different ways. … We were hopeful that we could get that back.”

Topeka is one of six stops in Kansas served by the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief. Garden City also lost its ticket agent at about the same time the Topeka ticket office closed.

Amtrak said a caretaker in Topeka is on duty between midnight and 2 a.m. and between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m.

Those times correspond to the scheduled arrival times of the Chief.

In his response letter to Trout, Stephen J. Gardner, Amtrak’s senior executive vice president of commercial, marketing and strategy, acknowledged that the caretaker does not sell tickets, but does provide basic information to passengers, including including how to place baggage tags on luggage.

Gardner said the Topeka agent had sold less than one ticket a day and that less than 3 percent of ticket sales came from station sales involving cash.

Trout conceded that ticket sales may have been low at the Topeka station, but access to a ticket agent was an opportunity for people who do not have a computer.

Amtrak figures show Topeka to be the second busiest station in the state with 10,084 passengers in fiscal year 2017, the most recent ridership figures available.

Newton was the busiest with 15,828 passengers. Others included Lawrence (9,834)), Hutchinson (4,294), Garden City (6,966) and Dodge City (5,208). Only Newton still has an Amtrak ticket agent.

In Garden City, the city placed computer terminals at the city-owned Amtrak station so passengers could buy tickets.

“In the global look at things, we saw an opportunity to talk to Amtrak about improved services at our station,” said City Manager Matt Allen said. “What we have set up now is a step in the right direction.”

Allen said city employees maintain and open and close the station. They do not, though, sell Amtrak tickets.

Volunteers Taking Over Station Tasks

November 16, 2018

Volunteers have been coming forward to take up some of the tasks once performed by paid Amtrak ticket agents.

The national passenger carrier has been removing agents from numerous stations this year in a cost-cutting binge.

The volunteers don’t sell tickets or act officially on Amtrak’s behalf, but they do guide passengers, greet inbound trains, and provide information about train schedules and their local communities.

The Rail Passengers Association has a Station Volunteer Program that seeks to recruit volunteers, train them and oversee their work.

“When Amtrak management decided to remove staff from 15 stations nationwide, there was serious concern from local city officials, rail advocacy groups and passengers about the future of the national network and people’s’ ability to easily travel between stations,” said RPA President Jim Mathews.

He cited the example of Niles, Michigan, where volunteers are working with the RPA program.

RPA staff was on hand in early November at the station to accept applications and conduct interviews with would-be station volunteers.

“Once volunteers have been accepted to the program, there will also be an important training process — and it’s not optional,” Mathews said. “We want these volunteers to be knowledgeable about their roles and the Amtrak trains that will be rolling through the station in order to provide appropriate levels of assistance to passengers.”

Similar volunteer programs are being implemented in Alabama, Florida, Illinois  and Texas. Programs are being planned for stations in Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota and North Carolina.

Some programs will be new while others will build upon the work of existing programs.

East Lansing Agent Service Ends Monday

October 28, 2018

The Amtrak agent in East Lansing, Michigan, will be removed effective Oct. 29.

Amtrak said passengers boarding or people meeting detraining passengers from the Chicago-Port Huron, Michigan Blue Water will continue to have access to the station’s waiting area and restrooms each day.

The access for westbound Train 365 will begin at 7 a.m. while access for eastbound Train 364 will state at 8 p.m.

 

East Lansing Ticket Office Closing Oct. 29

October 19, 2018

Amtrak will remove its ticket agent from the East Lansing, Michigan, station on Oct. 29.

A caretaker will continue to open the waiting room at the station.

Passengers will be able to buy tickets from a self-serve kiosk at the station or make reservations at Amtrak.com, on the Amtrak mobile app, or by phone at 800-872-7245.

East Lansing is served by the Chicago-Port Huron, Michigan, Blue Water. It also as connecting bus service to Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains that operate between Chicago and Detroit.

 

Lamy Ticket Office Now Closed

August 13, 2018

Another Amtrak ticket office has closed. On Aug. 3 Amtrak pulled its agents from Lamy, New Mexico, on the route of the Southwest Chief.

The closing of the Lamy office had been announced earlier and set for July 31, but the closing was moved back a few days.

In a service advisory Amtrak said passengers for Nos. 3 and 4 will continue to have access to the station waiting area and restrooms for all train arrivals and departures.

The station is open daily from noon to 3 p.m. Amtrak personnel on the train will assist customers boarding and detraining but unaccompanied minors will not be allowed to board at this station.

Ticket options include buying with a credit card from Amtrak reservations or at the Amtrak website. Passengers paying cash can pay for tickets on the train but such tickets will be priced at the highest fare and subject to availability.

Checked baggage is no longer handled at Lamy. Nearest full-service station is in Albuquerque, about an hour southwest of Lamy.

Amendment Would Restore Ticket Agents

July 30, 2018

An Amendment introduced by two Ohio U.S. Senators would direct Amtrak to restore a ticket agent in Cincinnati.

The amendment to the transportation appropriations bill that would require Amtrak to staff stations that averaged 25 passengers a day over the last five years

Introduced on July 26 by Sen. Sherrod Brown and Sen. Rob Portman, the measure would also affect the following stations that lost their ticket agents earlier this year: Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Ottumwa, Iowa; Topeka, Kansas; Hammond, Louisiana; Meridian, Mississippi; Havre, Montana; Shelby, Montona; Lamy, New Mexico; Marshall, Texas; and Charleston, West Virginia.

The amendment to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill is under consideration.

Cincinnati is served by Amtrak’s tri-weekly Chicago-Washington Cardinal.