Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak ticket agents’

Reinstated Amtrak Ticket Agents Won’t Actually Sell Tickets to Passengers at Stations

October 10, 2020

Amtrak and Congress may be heading for a clash over what constitutes a ticket agent and what they do.

Lawmakers in 2019 ordered Amtrak to reinstate ticket agents at stations that lost the agents a year earlier if the station averaged at least 25 passengers a day.

But what Amtrak has in mind is what it terms customer service representatives who will assist passengers in buying tickets online but won’t actually sell the tickets.

That has drawn the ire of some Montana officials, including members of the Montana congressional delegation.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told the Havre (Montana) Daily News that the Amtrak representatives can do the online booking for those who lack the ability to do that.

However, passengers must provide their own device or use an Amtrak-issued device in the case of those who lack sufficient internet connectivity or equipment or information.

The Amtrak representatives also will not accept cash. The passenger carrier has stopped accepting cash for ticket transactions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Veteran Amtrak Ticket Agent Retires

July 29, 2020

A veteran Amtrak ticket agent has sold his last ticket.

Garland Harper, 67, retired on July 24 after working as an Amtrak ticket agent for 45 years, most recently in Lynchburg, Virginia.

He told a Virginia newspaper that working as a ticket agent was a dream job. He said that during his childhood he enjoyed watching trains pass by and dreamed of working for a railroad.

“I’ll miss it,” he told the newspaper. “Once railroad gets into your blood it’s hard to get out.”

Harper joined Amtrak in 1975, serving as the agent in Williamson, West Virginia, when the Chicago-Norfolk Mountaineer began service.

In Lynchburg he usually worked the evening shift. Aside from selling tickets and providing information about Amtrak’s trains, Harper also greeted passengers, made sure they had all of their luggage before leaving the station and directed them to nearby bus station and waiting taxis.

Sometimes he would help some individuals find safe shelter for the night.

“A lot of customer service, in my opinion, is just the golden rule,” Harper said. “Treat people like you want to be treated. No question is too dumb.”

Amtrak Acknowledges 15 Ticket Offices to Reopen

May 23, 2020

Amtrak acknowledged on Friday that it will reinstate ticket agents in Cincinnati and 14 other stations that lost them in 2018.

The action is in response to a congressional mandate.

Other stations set to regain ticket agents include Marshall, Texas; Texarkana, Arkansas; Topeka, Kansas; Meridian, Mississippi; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Hammond, Louisiana; Charleston, West Virginia; Fort Madison, Iowa; Ottumwa, Iowa; Garden City, Kansas; La Junta, Colorado; Lamy, New Mexico; Shelby, Montana; and Havre, Montana.

Those stations lost their agent because they averaged less than 40 passenger boardings a day.

Cincinnati was the largest city to lose a ticket agent during that 2018 wave of ticket office closings.

It will take several weeks for the ticket offices to reopen.

Over the next four to six weeks Amtrak will post job openings and follow that up with interviewing and training.

The carrier has said the station jobs will be part-time and pay $20 per hour.

Cincinnati, which is located on the route of the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal, handled 11,382 passengers in 2017, an average of 36.4 passengers for the 313 days the station was open that year.

Ridership fell to 8,482 boardings in 2018 although some of that might have been due to a construction project being undertaken at Cincinnati Union Terminal.

Amtrak used a temporary station facility that was difficult to find.

In 2016, Cincinnati handled 12,481 passengers, which met the 40 passengers per day threshold. The passenger count in 2015 was 12,503.

In statement issued on Friday, Amtrak said those hired for the 15 stations will be uniformed workers trained to assist passengers with booking and boarding trains, including helping with unaccompanied minors, carry-on baggage and providing information on the status of arriving and departing trains.

The agents will be scheduled to meet customers for all trains.

Applications for the jobs will be available online at jobs.Amtrak.com. However, the carrier said before it hires outside applicants it will initially seek to fill the jobs internally.

The Amtrak statement said the Cincinnati station will not offer the services Amtrak requires to carry minors ages 13-15 traveling on their own.

It attributed that to the time of day when rains arrive in Cincinnati. Nos. 50 and 51 are scheduled to reach Cincinnati in the dead of night between 1 a.m. and 3:30 a.m.

The federal law prompting the return of the agents is contained in the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 that became law in December 2019.

It directed Amtrak to provide a ticket agent at every station that had agent position eliminated in fiscal 2018.

Amtrak May Restore Some Ticket Agents

May 22, 2020

A story in a Texas newspaper says Amtrak plans to restore ticket agents at 15 stations that lost their agents two years ago.

The Marshall News Messenger said the depot board that operates the Amtrak station in Marshall, Texas, received a phone call from an Amtrak manager on May 18 that said an agent would be restored in Marshall and 14 other stations.

Other stations reported to be set to see ticket agents restored included Cincinnati; Texarkana, Arkansas; Topeka, Kansas; Meridian, Mississippi; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Hammond, Louisiana; Charleston, West Virginia; Fort Madison, Iowa; Ottumwa, Iowa; Garden City, Kansas; La Junta, Colorado; Lamy, New Mexico; Shelby, Montana; and Havre, Montana.

The restoration of agents is expected to take place in the next month to six weeks.

The story said Amtrak plans to internally post the listing of the restored jobs in and then post them externally.

No Amtrak officials were quoted by name in the story and the passenger carrier has not announced any plans to restore ticket agents at any station.

At the time that Amtrak said it planned to close ticket offices at several stations, it framed the move as a cost-cutting measure at locations where ticket sales and passenger boardings were low.

The decision to close the Cincinnati ticket office was criticized for applying a minimum passenger count to a station that does not have daily service.

Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Cardinal stops in Cincinnati on Monday, Thursday and Saturday westbound and on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday eastbound.

Cincinnati was the largest city to lose its ticket agent. Amtrak also has closed ticket offices in various other cities including Michigan stations in Flint, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Niles and East Lansing.

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.