Better World Club

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Amtrak Denies BWC a Member Discount Because It Can't "Publicly Oppose AAA"

Did AAA Use Its Influence to Intimidate Amtrak?

How's this for an unhealthy relationship: AAA -- an organization that has consistently lobbied against mass transit for the past 50+ years -- is granted a 10% Amtrak discount for its members. Better World Club -- an organization that has consistently lobbied on behalf of mass transit in general (and Amtrak in particular) -- is denied an Amtrak discount.

When advised by Amtrak that we would not receive an Amtrak discount equivalent to the one AAA members receive, an Amtrak representative actually stated that Amtrak couldn't "publicly oppose AAA" by offering a discount to BWC members. Is offering our members a discount "opposing" AAA? If Amtrak did offer BWC members a discount, would Amtrak executives have to start parking only in brightly lit parking lots?

Since Amtrak receives A LOT of public funding (we've even lobbied on their behalf here and here), we've approached lawmakers and asked them to look into the legality of Amtrak's preferential treatment of AAA.

What's next? How far is Amtrak going to take this self-loathing behavior? Will Amtrak employees stop taking the train to work in the mornings and all start driving alone? We want to help Amtrak break this cycle of self-defeating behavior. Readers, please comment on this article and let us know what you think is the best way to proceed.

24 Comments:

  • Does Amtrak have a public comment line? An ombudsperson? You should figure out who members should contact, and publicize it -- and then see if you can drum up a bunch of nastygrams!

    By Blogger David Gossett, At November 25, 2009 at 10:58 AM  

  • I just traveled to D.C. from Durham, NC via Amtrak. I'm furious at this outlandish situation. You need to start a grassroots campaign to expose this ignorance and force policy makers to correct this foolishness.

    By Blogger Chuck Clifton, At November 25, 2009 at 11:11 AM  

  • BWC is in a great position to start a letter-writing campaign. Tell us who to contact and we will.

    By Blogger Gabriel, At November 25, 2009 at 11:14 AM  

  • Perhaps it's time for another 'What's the doughboy afraid of?' campaign. You guys are clever - come up with a word that describes AAA to replace 'doughboy'.

    By Blogger Mary, At November 25, 2009 at 11:18 AM  

  • That is really disturbing. I will think of ways to raise awareness. It helps that you blogged about it so it gives the Internet activists among us something to share.

    As I look for a new home in an affordable area that won't require a car commute, I feel the cumulative impact of these little corruptions constantly.

    By Anonymous Rekha, At November 25, 2009 at 11:19 AM  

  • I am always thrilled when I can make a journey on Amtrak, and I am hopeful that rider Joe Biden and his boss, along with my Democratic elected officials from California, will provide regenerated support for Amtrak's maintenance and development. A highly-improved national rail system will strengthen America from the inside.

    I would welcome knowing the appropriate contact person/s in Amtrak (and elsewhere) to support the company to make much more intelligent use of its business sense. Denying BTW members like me who actively advocate for good rail both through BTW and also as individuals participating in the government process the ten percent benefit they provide AAA must make sense only to appease anti-rail private-industry corporate special interests. If so, is this strategy paying off?

    Gimme some names and numbers!

    Thank you,
    Barry Bussewitz
    Petaluma, California

    By Blogger Barry, At November 25, 2009 at 11:22 AM  

  • If this could get into other media, it seems that would be good. Any hope in contacting someone from NPR to get a story on Morning Ed. or All Things Considered? There are lots of folks who sympathize with BWC's goals among NPR listeners, and this really does seem like an odd situation that merits public attention.

    By Blogger B, At November 25, 2009 at 11:28 AM  

  • I belong to NARP and will write them a letter.
    This should go into their newsletter along with contact info. Who should we be writing?

    By Blogger marion, At November 25, 2009 at 11:40 AM  

  • Why is this legal? Amtrak is a public corporation.

    By Blogger Desertstraw, At November 25, 2009 at 12:02 PM  

  • Sounds like Amtrak, a quasi-public agency, is responding to AAA's attacks, by rewarding its members with discounts. Surely this is a long run counter-productive policy. It would behoove Amtrack to encourage ridership that supports public transit, rather than fight it via AAA lobyists. Next time I ride Amtrack this will be a great conversation starter, most AAA members are probably as unaware of this counter productive policy as well as AAA's opposition to Amtrack.

    By Blogger Andrew Rasmussen, At November 25, 2009 at 12:06 PM  

  • I've just linked to this on my Facebook page...I hope lots of my friends will pass it on.

    By Blogger TrudyS, At November 25, 2009 at 12:39 PM  

  • That's really troublesome, but maybe not all that surprising. While I do think public transportation is the way of the future, I'm not sure Amtrak is. My husband took Amtrak from San Jose to Seattle last year and it took FOREVER. They probably averaged 25 miles/hour.

    Regardless, thanks for letting us know.

    By Blogger Town Mouse, At November 25, 2009 at 1:10 PM  

  • That's really troublesome, but maybe not all that surprising. While I do think public transportation is the way of the future, I'm not sure Amtrak is. My husband took Amtrak from San Jose to Seattle last year and it took FOREVER. They probably averaged 25 miles/hour.

    Regardless, thanks for letting us know.

    By Blogger Town Mouse, At November 25, 2009 at 1:10 PM  

  • What a disappointment. I think Amtrak is making a big mistake. But I also think that BWC played a part in this decision when we went "negative" and started turning the organization into a bully pulpit for anti-AAA rhetoric. I agree with the BWC position, and that's why I joined, for its pro-active benefits, not to fight AAA. Let's be better, not meaner. "Nastygrams" won't help. This is how wars get started. Instead, let's try to re-build a relationship with Amtrak, if it's not too late.

    By Anonymous Iris, At November 25, 2009 at 2:19 PM  

  • Please start a viral email campaign, flooding Amtrak with messages of protest. This is outrageous.

    Paul

    By Blogger Paul, At November 25, 2009 at 5:15 PM  

  • FROM BETTER WORLD CLUB

    Hey everyone,

    We'll try to get hold of everyone who wrote, but we the comments section doesn't capture email addresses so it's a bit complicated.

    We are planning what we should do next: most likely announcing a campaign of some sort (and thanks to Mary who references Ben & Jerry's "doughboy" campaign. We've been considering the same thing.)

    So, watch for the upcoming issue of Driving Change. We should have a Call to Action there.

    (And Iris, I hope we don't turn ourselves into a "bully pulpit for anti-AAA rhetoric". We try to keep it light. Hope we're generally succeeding.)

    Thanks again for all of your comments,

    Mitch Rofsky
    Better World Club

    By Anonymous Mitch Rofsky, At November 25, 2009 at 5:22 PM  

  • Amtrak's website has a "Contact Us" link, which I just used to send my comment on this issue. Simply click on the link, select the appropriate category for your comment (I chose something like "Specials/Promotions"), and fire away!
    I explained how using public transportation benefits everyone, and instead of revoking the AAA discount, which would only discourage use of Amtrak, they should offer an equal discount for BWC members.

    By Blogger Mia, At November 26, 2009 at 10:26 AM  

  • You definitely should get in touch with Michael Dukakis. He is passionate about public transportation and serves (served?) on Amtrak's board.

    His reputation is that of uncommon integrity. I beleive he would be offended by what happened and could be a source of valuable guidance. You would be hard pressed to find a more powerful ally.

    Pat Murray

    By Anonymous Patricia Murray, At November 26, 2009 at 6:28 PM  

  • Mia and Patricia: Great ideas. Will do.

    Mitch: Campaign is a good idea. I'm not sure if I get the newsletter you mention. I do get one of them, though, so please be sure to include information on all your newsletters.

    By Anonymous Rekha, At November 28, 2009 at 7:01 AM  

  • Americans invented the great railroads, made their mistakes along the way, killing off transportation which came before and in turn getting killed off by the car. We could have done it differently, but truly there are just too many people here who want to drive where they want when they want...and not enough rail lines, for various reasons, and not enough bargains and services on them. Here we are, where lobbyists can discourage rail improvements and then take a Triple A discount and complain about the bad service! It's always about money: who has it, who wants it, who controls it. I joined Better World Club as soon as I knew my AAA membership helped fight against high-speed rail in Ohio; now tell me what else I can do!! - Karen Stoner

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At November 30, 2009 at 8:54 AM  

  • I was recently made aware of Amtrak's denial of discounted fares to BWC members when I scheduled a train trip in November. I was, in fact, shocked. Because I am a (happy) convert from AAA, I used to enjoy that discount in the past. The whole idea of denying BWC members the same discount is ludicrous, for all of the above comments everyone has contributed. Usually when I approach a motel or hotel that only shows discounts to AAA members with my proposal for a BWC discount, they immediately accommodate me with the same discount. It doesn't seem to be a conflict in their eyes. I would definitely write letters or emails to Amtrak about this issue as soon as you can figure out the best target for public opinion.

    By Blogger Maria, At December 4, 2009 at 8:24 PM  

  • I am about to book a long (NY-Florida) trip on Amtrak and noticed the AAA discount available. It is absolutely LUDICROUS that Amtrak will not recognize the Better World Club with the same discount. If they truly believe in sustainable travel, they would make these arrangements with every travel club out there.

    By Blogger Amy, At December 7, 2009 at 7:16 PM  

  • Where are we at with this? Perhaps a Facebook group we could be a fan of? I bet we could easily get thousands of signatures on a petition...

    By Anonymous Hugh, At December 19, 2009 at 5:45 PM  

  • Here's the Amtrak (non)response to my complaint on this matter:

    Dear Ms. Murthy:

    Thank you for your email and concern about this issue.

    Amtrak offers a multitude of regular fare discounts, specials, as well as seasonal and special offers for a wide variety of passengers. Amtrak has offered certain discounts to some organizations as a result of overall strategy and marketing efforts. Of course, Amtrak cannot offer discounts to every organization and group, but our marketing and sales departments strive to offer competitive fares along with special incentives where best identified.

    I have logged your complaint and comments for review by appropriate managers. Please know we care about your patronage, and I am sorry you feel our fares and incentives do not meet your needs.

    Again, thank you for your email and concern.


    Sincerely,

    Mark Anderson
    Customer Relations Specialist
    Amtrak Office of Customer Relations
    60 Massachusetts Avenue, NE
    Washington, DC 20002

    By Blogger Rekha, At December 19, 2009 at 6:57 PM  

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