Thankfully, some in Congress have taken notice. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) penned an open letter to Amtrak President Joseph Boardman, questioning the logic behind the move.
“We are certain that there is considerable demand for free Amtrak tickets in any number of venues,” the lawmakers wrote. “Unfortunately, given Amtrak’s prodigious annual taxpayer subsidies, this plan raises multiple red flags…revenue from ticket sales was insufficient to even cover Amtrak’s operating expenses.” Hoping for return on investment on thousands of dollars-worth of free trips to help bridge this gap seems like a dubious plan, to say the least.
Amtrak offering free rides, with no metric by which to judge the success of the program, embodies perfectly the systemic problems with this government-run railroad.
Taxpayer-funded projects like Amtrak have no profit motive, no inclination to increase efficiency, and every incentive to continue shoveling taxpayer money into the proverbial firebox. That’s because for more than 40 years, Amtrak’s funding has been all but guaranteed regardless of performance.
Instead of expanding taxpayer subsidies even further and driving Amtrak even further off the rails of solvency, policymakers should be looking for ways to put a stop to what has become a Handout Express to the tune of $15 billion a year.
Not only should Amtrak begin to live up to its promise of getting back on stable financial footing by cancelling the free ride program, Congress should consider not re-authorizing the service at all – ending Amtrak’s free ride at our expense.