Monday, December 05, 2011

GUEST COLUMN: "Why Should Taxpayers Get Stuck with Tab for Amtrak Hot Dogs?"

Rep. Jean Schmidt
By Rep. Jean Schmidt

Amtrak train passengers aren’t the only ones being taken for a ride. The railroad system loses more than $60 million a year on food and beverages, and taxpayers are picking up the tab.

That’s outrageous.

How does Amtrak manage to lose money while selling a hot dog for $4.50?

Consider that passengers would pay an astounding $6.60 for the same hot dog if you took away a subsidy provided to Amtrak by taxpayers.

Revenue from food and beverages sold aboard Amtrak trains in fiscal year 2010 totaled $131 million, but the cost of providing the service was $192 million. That loss of $61 million means taxpayers provided a subsidy of nearly 32 percent.

Keep in mind that this isn’t gourmet fare that requires a French chef. We’re talking about zapping hot dogs in microwaves, brewing coffee, serving soda pop, and making change.

Amtrak has been required since Oct. 1, 1982, to break even or make money on food and beverage service. In nearly 30 years since then, Amtrak has not once complied with the federal law.

So I’ve introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to halt the runaway deficit spending aboard Amtrak trains.

My bill, called the Amtrak Food and Beverage Service Savings Act, would require the Federal Railroad Administration to seek competitive bids. Amtrak would be allowed to compete with outside companies in bidding to provide food and beverages.

If Amtrak can’t cut the mustard, the job of serving up a hot dog should be privatized.

The National Taxpayers Union, which has 360,000 members, has endorsed my bill.

“Passage of your legislation is a long-overdue, non-controversial remedy for one of Amtrak’s most egregiously wasteful business practices,” said Pete Sepp, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union. “All of your colleagues in Congress should be willing to support this sensible and important step toward ensuring that Amtrak delivers value to its customers without burdening taxpayers.”

The bottom line is this: When it comes to covering the cost of hot dogs served on Amtrak trains, taxpayers are fed up.