Petition to Keep Dining Cars Now Approaching 50,000 signatures

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by dlagrua, Oct 21, 2019.

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  1. Oct 21, 2019 #1

    dlagrua

    dlagrua

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    I have no idea what change.org is all about and how they operate but today I received an email and it asked me to sign and chip in a few bucks for a petition to save the dining cars. I did sign and sent them a couple of bucks and noticed there there were close to 50,000 signatures on this petition. Not knowing who or what Change.org is, I just wonder how this petition will be presented and to whom. Also who gets the donations? Does anyone here know if this is an effective vehicle to reach congress?
     
  2. Oct 21, 2019 #2

    tim49424

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    Online petitions rarely work. I don't waste my time with them. Also, change.org sells your information to others. My mom signed one of their petitions and was flooded with other garbage emails generated by those sales. I had that happen too and I ended up changing my email address.
     
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2019
  3. Oct 21, 2019 #3

    Skyline

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    Change.org is an effective political organizing consortium founded in 2007. They lobby for all sorts of policy initiatives. The dining car petition may be one of the least known, yet with 50k signatures for it that shows their mobilization abilities. But for contrast, they garnered 1.1 million votes to "free" an elephant in the Bronx Zoo.

    The organization is technically a for-profit corporation, which has less restrictions on endorsing candidates and taking referendum positions than non-profits. It's a trade-off, but their books are open so you can see who, if anyone, profits financially. (I can't see that anyone gets rich at change.org but am open to being better informed.)

    They also tend to support left-of-center political candidates. Yet some centrists and conservatives support specific petitions they initiate. So, if you agree with their position on dining cars but oppose others, you've got company.
     
  4. Oct 21, 2019 #4

    Devil's Advocate

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    Change.org is a petition website for encouraging and promoting grassroots activism. On its own it doesn't really do much, but when used as tool to create awareness and build support it can be reasonably effective. Anyone can submit petitions and anyone can reference petitions created by others. So, if you live in Washington D.C. you can present the petition to a federal representative, or if you live in a small town you can present the petition to your state legislature or city council. It's true that a simple petition is not going to seem very effective in and of itself, but when used to help build momentum toward deeper and more involved activism can be quite helpful. Blindly complaining that gathering signatures "doesn't work" is like claiming that first gear is broken because it can't get you to 70MPH. Each implement in the toolbox has a specific place and purpose that must be thoughtfully combined and coordinated to reach a productive conclusion.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2019
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  5. Oct 22, 2019 #5

    MARC Rider

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    I signed the petition, though I thought it was a bit wordy and didn't make the greatest argument about why restoring dining car service to long distance trains is an important public priority. Here's a sample letter I'm composing to send to Mr. Anderson, with copies to my representative, senators and the relevant House and Senate committee chairs. (I did resist the temptation to include "Such lousy food! And such small portions!" :) ) Suggestions would be appreciated, and I may change this some after I actually have a chance to sample the new food regime:

    Dear Mr. Anderson:

    I have been an Amtrak customer since 1971 when the company was founded. I am currently a Select Plus member of Amtrak Guest rewards and ride frequently. Although I mostly ride the Northeast Corridor, I also frequently ride the Carolinian, the Atlantic Coast Service, the Vermonter, Empire service, and I make 1 to 2 long-distance trips a year. Over the past five years, I've noticed a deterioration of on-board service on many Amtrak routes. While I understand the need to prioritize safety, state of good repair of equipment, and on-time performance, adequate on-board service is also essential to maintain the attractiveness of passenger rail as compared to other transportation modes.

    In particular, on-board food service is very important for travelers making trips longer than four hours, especially if traveling during meal times. Although most major rail terminals have some outlets where take-out food is available, a large percentage of Amtrak travelers board at stations where such facilities don't exist. Some passengers may be able to prepare their meals at home of their outbound trip, but the vast majority of them won't be able to do so before their return trip. It thus seems that having high quality on-board food service is essential for Amtrak to maintain its competitive edge.

    The deterioration in on-board food service is found mainly in the dining car service on longer trips, and I fear the the implementation of the new "flexible dining option" for the eastern trains will further accelerate this decline. During the past five years, I've noticed that certain management decisions, such as reductions in staff, limited service hours, and inadequate stocking of food items has made the dining experience less attractive and has reduced the potential for Amtrak to increase it's earnings from food and beverage sales. The overhead costs of maintaining a dining car are constant. I have observed that the procedures in place resulted in far less earnings then were possible.

    In fact, I have personal experience of this unfulfilled demand. On a recent trip on the Silver Service, I was riding coach, and was unable to secure a dining car reservation. I was not the only coach passenger in this position. I remember in the early days of Amtrak, dining car service was faster and more efficient, allowing a higher throughput of customers than is now the case. This may help explain why the dining cars are not performing as well as everyone would like financially.

    The flexible dining in its current implementation needs some major changes if it is to provide the kind of attractive on-board food service need to maintain Amtrak's competitive edge. I have noted some of the problems on recent trips I have made on the Capitol Limited and the Cardinal:

    1. Flexible dining is not available for coach passengers. I understand there are plans to make it available, and these should be put in place as soon as possible.
    2. The dining car is severely understaffed, which results in slow and inconsistent service, which is now only being provided to sleeping car passengers, who are paying a large premium for the service. Poor service at high prices could drive away sleeping car passengers, who provide a significant source of revenue for these trains.
    3. The quality of the food served is not as good as it could be. Most of it is unhealthy with excessively high salt and sugar content. Ingredient lists of the food items are not readily available, which is problematic for people with allergies or other dietary restrictions.
    4. There is not enough of a variety of items from which to choose. While it is true that most of these trains are relatively short overnight trips, my Chicago to Baltimore trip on the Cardinal involved service of two dinners and a lunch, all from the same menu. Also, it is quite common for items from the already limited menu to be out of stock (sometimes early in the trip), reducing food variety even more.

    I understand the desire to economize on food service, especially in light of Congressional mandates regarding its profitability. However, profitability can be achieved by increasing revenue in addition to cutting costs. My experience over the past five years suggests to me that Amtrak's management is solely concerned with cutting costs and is not thinking of ways to increase revenue. There are many examples in the transportation industry of profitable carriers providing good quality on-board food service. Surely Amtrak can learn from them and provide a better product than is available now.

    Sincerely yours,

    LJB
     
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  6. Oct 22, 2019 #6

    Cho Cho Charlie

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    Just how do they define effective? How many of these partitions actually achieve their stated goal? What's their success rate?

    With 50K signatures, how likely they will be able to force Amtrak to capitulate?
     
  7. Oct 22, 2019 #7

    tim49424

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    They won’t. Plus you get lots of unwanted special gifts filling up your spam box,
     
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  8. Oct 22, 2019 #8

    MARC Rider

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    Here's a petition page that may or may not get read by those in power.

    https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/

    Note, however, that some of the petitions are very crank-ish, yet seem to be able to crank up 100,000+ signatures without breaking a sweat.

    Sometimes I despair for the future of the republic.
     
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  9. Oct 22, 2019 #9

    Trogdor

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    A 50,000-signature petition plus $4.75 will get you a latte at Starbucks.
     
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  10. Oct 22, 2019 #10

    MARC Rider

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    If you get 100,000 signatures in 30 days, you're supposed to get a response from the White House.

    Looking at some of the petitions that have been "updated" with a response from the White House, I have to admit that the responses are pretty reasonable, even if I don't agree with every one. They even did OK with some of the nuttier ones.

    I think it might be useful to start a petition on whitehouse.gov to ask the President to support changes in legislation to remove the "Mica Rule" about Food and Beverage "profitability." It could even be worded in a way that agrees with the need for Amtrak to be financially solvent, but remove political micromanagement and let the company allocate resources as it needs to build its product.

    Another relevant petition might be to ask the President to have DOT review Amtrak's accounting to determine whether overhead is being charged correctly, and to require more financial transparency from Amtrak.
     
  11. Oct 22, 2019 #11

    MARC Rider

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    That's absolutely true, but a 100,000 signature petition gets you a response from the White House. Given some of the crazy petitions that reach that threshold, I would imagine the RPA and other rail-oriented groups could work up a campaign to get that.
     
  12. Oct 22, 2019 #12

    RSG

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    The White House petition option is really the only one that has potential to make a difference. And it should be one of the tools in the lobbying toolbox that RPA should use.
     
  13. Oct 22, 2019 #13

    JC_620

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    Add my name to the list...
     
  14. Oct 23, 2019 #14

    bratkinson

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    As much as everyone here would like to see full dining car service restored, it won't happen, regardless of how many signatures are on the petition. Anderson is merely fulfilling the current law as written to make the F&B service 'break even' or close to it.

    The petitions should be directed to your representatives in Congress. They're the ones that made the law, and they're the ones to change it.
     
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  15. Oct 23, 2019 #15

    Acela150

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    You stole the words right out of my mouth! You can actually thank Amtrak's "Number one fan" Former Rep. John Mica. Thank God he was voted out!
     
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  16. Oct 24, 2019 #16

    MARC Rider

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    Any petition, whether to the White House or to Congress, should focus on the need to preserve the national network and the need for suitable on-board service as a means to maintain ridership and revenue. Maintaining the national network (i.e. long distance trains that serve lots of rural areas of states in flyover country) is essential to maintain passenger rail service in general, even the urban corridors, as representatives from districts served by the LD trains form a coalition with those from the urban areas served by corridor trains to support Amtrak funding. Talking about tablecloths, silverware and on-board cooked food is a losing proposition as most of the public aren't railfans and couldn't care less about the golden days of the streamliners, especially if such service is being maintained by taxpayer subsidy. The point to make is that a national network is essential for passenger rail in the United States and decent on-board meal service of some sort is essential to maintain the national network.

    What Congress needs to do is eliminate the "Mica Rule." What the Administration needs to do is push for transparent accounting to obtain a more realistic estimate of how much it really costs to run long distance trains.
     
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  17. Oct 24, 2019 #17

    Qapla

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    Supporting Amtrak is a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of that Wall
     
  18. Oct 27, 2019 #18

    neroden

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    Thanks for an excellent letter. I'd suggest cc:ing it to the Amtrak Board. For your Representatives and Senators, you may have to put a cover letter addressed to *them* -- expressing your concern that Anderson and the Board are not listening to customers and are losing revenue and riders, thus increasing the amount of money they need from Congress -- and attach your letter to Anderson.
     
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  19. Nov 9, 2019 #19

    Woodcut60

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    Dining Cars are such a great part of the overall train journey experience. Especially the North American ones (Amtrak, Alaska Railroad, and VIA Rail Canada). I've had a lot of nice conversations during dinner in the Dining Cars.
     
  20. Nov 10, 2019 #20

    BBoy

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    So.....
    I'm hearing that AMTK may switch to Coca-Cola products in the cafe/lounge cars.

    Any of you hearing the same thing?
     
  21. Nov 10, 2019 #21

    AmtrakBlue

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    Not “may”, but “will”.

    It was announced on AU a few weeks ago by a reliable source. Also, a FB friend posted a picture of a Coke on the Sunset Limited he was on last week.
     
  22. Nov 10, 2019 #22

    tim49424

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  23. Nov 10, 2019 #23

    tim49424

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    I also have a FB friend who posted one either on the CONO or SSL last week. I think it was in the comments section of someone else’s post. I couldn’t find it on his page. He’s a big Coke fan so I’m assuming he’s happy with the change. I know I will be!
     
  24. Nov 10, 2019 #24

    AmtrakBlue

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    Same friend. ;)
     
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  25. Nov 10, 2019 #25

    tim49424

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    Gotcha!
     

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