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Discussion in 'Amtrak’s Future: Member Ideas and Discussion' started by MIRAILFAN, Dec 12, 2019.
Raise the fares on popular routes and times, and offer more discounts on unpopular times.
On paper that's obvious. In reality:
(1) Amtrak is limited to about a 100% variation in fare (that is, if the cheapest ticket for a given class of service is $51, the most expensive ticket can't be more than about $100). That's a legal thing.
(2) There's a point when deep discounts backfire (e.g. you end up discounting to folks who were going to travel anyway without inducing new ridership).
(3) There are a few "ridership holes" on certain LD routes that are hard to fill seats on (RNO-SLC is a major one) and on other routes, you've got ridership bottlenecks (e.g. CVS-WAS on the Cardinal), so some of those seats aren't fillable.
(4) There's also such a thing as a "pain point" when you end up running off pax. There are plenty of cases where if you drive off a passenger from a preferred one-way travel day/time, you lose their entire trip. So trying to shake an extra $100 from a passenger on a super-peak day might lose you their whole $1000 round trip, which might include a $300 return leg that would otherwise go empty. This is a messy dilemma (there's no good way to handle it).
TBH the big thing that's needed to cut those losses is more frequency on many routes (so each train isn't an absolute go/no-go for pax) and more capacity, particularly on the sleeper side.
As I have noted before, if you do the accounting honestly, most of the so-called long distance trains generate a marginal profit.
There are several things which can be done to increase those profits, as the previous poster noted, but the most important is forcing the host railroads to run the trains on time. It is documented from various corridor and commuter rail cases to lead to 50% increases in ridership (with associated greater pricing power) and it also reduces costs. And it does so while making customers happier, imagine that.
I agree. Getting the trains to run on time is probably the most important thing that's needed in order to make passenger rail outside the major urban corridors a real viable transportation alternative, getting cars off the road with the associated benefits for greenhouse gas and pollution emissions, reduction in traffic congestion, mobility alternatives for the significant minority of the population that can't/won't drive or fly, etc. These are the reasons why taxpayers should support passenger rail even if every train isn't profitable.
Actually, if the current Amtrak leadership can get the trains to run on time, or at least make sure that none of the delays are due to Amtrak's fault (i.e., keeping equipment in state of good repair, make sure crews are available, etc.), I might even tolerate contemporary flex dining on the eastern trains.
Cutting station agents is not a way. Sobering numbers for Cardinal in WV.
How much does adding a car to the consist reduce the mileage of the engine puling the load? How much does adding another sleeper car add to the cost of operating the train?
One way to make a train more profitable would be to carry more passengers per trip - especially on longer distances.
One way to do this might be by adding additional sleeper cars to the LD trains, thus allowing each train to carry more people. However, in order for this to work, the prices for riding in a sleeper need to b adjusted to a more affordable level.
Since many of the people who ride coach do so, not because they are riding a short distance, but because the price of coach is much less money. Therefore, while lowering the cost of sleepers would move some of the current coach passengers into sleepers, it would not displace that many. Even if it did, the overall number of passengers on the train would not drop by that much.
Currently, the difference in ticket cost from coach to sleeper is about 4 times the price. Reducing this difference to a more affordable level, perhaps 2 to 2.5 the price of coach, would allow some who now ride coach to sleepers.
At current price levels, even if the entire passenger load of a coach moved to sleepers the train would still take in about the same amount of money.
By adding sleeper cars and reducing the price of the sleeper fare it would seem like it would increase overall ridership on LD trains since not all coach passengers would move to sleepers even if the cost were more affordable.
Another thing that might help would be to quit categorizing trains into only to categories. I have noticed that all trains that are more than 500 miles seems to be called "long distance". Why is there no category for "medium distance"? While trains over 500 miles may require more than a single "work day (8 hours)" to run, even an overnight trains does not compare to a two or three day/night trip.
There is quite a difference in a train that travels from Florida to NY than one that travels from California to NY.
I would consider the trains from Florida to NY or perhaps from Chi to NOL to be "medium distance" trains. I know on the Silvers, many of those on the trains go from Fl all the way to NY - I do not know how many ride from NY all the way to LAX or EMY or even from CHI to EMY.
By adding additional sleepers and reducing their fares would encourage more ridership on these MD trains allowing for more coach seats to be available for those who are using these trains for short distances.
The issues with adding sleepers is who's riding then. If I were to ride a train overnight, I'm riding it for the transportation and less so the experience. The sleeper as a product, doesn't appeal to me because I'm just looking for a flat surface to sleep on. Which is why Amtrak needs a budget option for those of us willing to ride the train overnight, but don't really want all the bells and whistles of a sleeper. I fly for the same reason I drive, because I lack an alternative. If I know coach is my only option to go to Denver from California, I'm going to put up with Southwest for 3 hours instead of the train overnight, no matter how much the experience will unsettle me.
That is one of the reasons I said that the prices need revising. When you can ride coach for @ $150 why should a sleeper cost over $600 like some do now? The price difference between coach and sleeper exceeds the "upgrade" - that needs to be fixed.
And, just like I, personally, do not fly, You, personally, would not use a sleeper - however, it could be that neither of us is typical ...
Next sleeper order should include something akin to the slumbercoach! A mix of one and two bed spaces that are private but no-frill ... and affordable.
(The berths of the past probably won't appeal to a lot of Americans today because they're not that private -- especially if sharing a two-person space with a stranger. But two people who know each other would likely not have an issue sharing a two-bed slumbercoach instead of a berth in a section. And singles might like the privacy of the one-bed space.)
The 21st century version of the slumbercoach doesn't even need to have the amenities of those made by Budd in the 1950s like sinks and toilets, as those would be just down the aisle. Just a moderately comfortable private place to lie horizontal, a little storage, seats in the daytime, a fold-down table and a couple outlets for electronics. Pax would bring their own blankets, quilts, pillows, sleeping bags and could control the lowering and raising of the "beds if they were easy to manipulate. At most, a clean semi-fitted bottom sheet might be provided by Amtrak but put on/taken off by pax. One porter could work two cars, as their duties would be far less than for a first class sleeper.
Meals would be available for purchase in a cafe car and/or full diner by slumbercoach pax, not included in the price of accommodation.
I'm convinced there is a market for this.
I take the AT 8-times-a-year. We get 2 adjoining bedrooms. Why? COMFORT! NO WAY I'm putting myself or my car thru that treacherous drive. And NO WAY I putting myself thru the torture of flying. Whatever it is = I pay it. Yes, the Xmas trip in 2 weeks runs $3,600 R/T....but then...some trips are free (AGR points). Trust me...somewhere around South-of-the-Border I'd be writing a check to get me-the-he!! off'of 95 if I had driven!!! LOL Besides...considering what I can bring vs. flying with just what fits in your pocket...
The AT may be an exception to "cutting losses".
Uh, better check out the ridership statistics:
These for for the "long distance" business line only:
Coach: 3,640,873 passengers, average trip distance 470 miles
Business class: 149,746 passengers, average trip distance 401 miles
Sleeper: 657,078 passengers, average trip distance 995 miles
Average coach fare: $70, average BC fare $105, average sleeper fare $282
Average yield per mile: Coach $0.015, BC, $0.026, sleeper $0.028
From the graph showing trip length I would estimate (RPA did not beak out separate figures for Coach, BC, and sleeper) that fewer than 1/4 of the coach passengers are traveling more than 600 miles, which is a good surrogate for whether they're taking an overnight trip.
From this I calculate:
Coach: 3,640,873 passenger x $70 = $254,861,110 in revenue
BC: 149,746 x $105 = $15,723,330 in revenue
Sleeper: 657,078 x $282 = $185,295,996 in revenue
My impression from this is that:
1) Long distance trains carry an order of magnitude more coach passengers than sleeper passengers. (Can't really judge business class, because it's only offered on one or two trains.)
2) Most long distance coach and business class passengers aren't taking overnight trips.
3) Business class revenue yield per mile is almost as good as sleeper revenue yield per mile.
4) Total revenue from sleeper passengers is about the same order of magnitude as total revenue from coach passengers, even though sleeper passengers are only 15% of all the Amtrak long distance passengers. In other words, the sleeper passengers are subsidizing the system, to some extent.
5) A relatively small percentage of Amtrak sleeper tickets are in the ranges of "thousands of dollars" as is commonly reported in these forums. (The average sleeper fare is under $300.)
I'm not some sort of business wunderkind, I don't even play one on TV, but if I were in charge, I'd:
1) Implement business class on every long distance train and try to get as many coach passengers as possible to spend the extra $35 (on average) for their short (~400 mile on average) ride.
2) Increase sleeper capacity as much as possible without it driving fares too low. Optimize to maximize total revenue.
To decide how much capacity for premium fare passengers I'd need to increase, I'd need accurate information about the costs associated with providing additional business class and sleeper capacity. These would be direct costs without allocations for overhead. In other words, I would want to see how the direct costs for adding capacity for premium service compare to the increased revenue yields I can expect.
At least some of the food service direct costs should be lumped into the direct costs for providing sleeper service. It's true that a quarter of the 3.6 million coach passengers (or ~900,000) are doing overnight travel, which is more than the current number of sleeper passengers, and thus they are also a market for food service, too. However, we're trying to maximize yield, and sleeper passengers both travel longer distances and yield more fare revenue per mile, so the sleeper and BC passengers are really our primary focus for food service. Of course, maximizing food service revenue is a whole other subject, but decent food service is really necessary to maximize sleeper passengers, and thus maximize total fare revenue.
The strategy is to use the premium fare sleeper and business class passengers to partially subsidize the operation of the train so that it can provide the necessary transportation services to the coach passengers who are taking shorter trips. Rather than being some sort of "frill" giving old geezers "land cruises," maximizing premium service on the long distance trains is actually an important business strategy to ensure that necessary transportation services can be provided to people of modest means (i.e., coach travelers) in rural areas.
The issue with BC on the LD trains is that the seat isn't that much better (it's 2-1, but you've got a 2/3 chance of getting a 2 seat instead of a 1, and the seat pitches are similar, if not better in coach depending on the train).
Something I mentioned before is that BC should probably include a serious F&B amenity (whether we're talking "full meal included" or "guaranteed right to purchase a hot meal") on the LD trains.
We also need something in the vein of either a lie-flat seat or a slumbercoach-esque option. If you went to a single bed per roomette/slumbercoach, you might be able to design it so that the customer can turn their own bed down (e.g. the Murphy beds in the old roomettes, perhaps with some partial automation of the process) and thus bear out a higher pax:OBS ratio there.
I agree that business class should include F&B. Ideally price business class properly in between coach and sleeper and include the dining car meal, soft drinks, and provide pillows and blankets.
I don’t think lie flat seats are needed for BC. 2-1 reserved seats with proper amenities would be a game changer for me personally.
Slumbercoaches... let them Rest In Peace. A slumbercoach room is not that drastically different than a roomette. The duplex design probably wouldn’t pass current codes, so you would only be able to fit so many in. You’d also have to have an ADA accessible room. Plus the restrooms... I just don’t think it would be worth it. The existing sleeping car design work well.
About sleeper fares. Let us look at the revenue potential per car. Cannot remember actual capacities but a V-1 and V-2 sleepers can carry about 30 passenger and an Amfleet-2 about 60. Sleepers of course have more benefits such as meals, privacy, requiring more maintenance, more reservation time, single OBS, etc. So a fare 3 - 3-1/2 times coach would seem fair and would attract even more passengers to sleepers .
Is the ratio about same for Superliners ?
I respectfully disagree. I think that lie-flat seats are absolutely necessary for a long-distance business class product.
Look at this chart of business-class products on long-haul jets. Angle lie-flat seats or flat bed seats are the norm now.
I can’t imagine that type of product would be much cheaper than a roomette though, so what’s the point?
I wouldn't exactly say that an open section wouldn't work at all. If your target is someone that would otherwise ride in coach on an overnight trip, a section would be a welcomed upgrade. As for a slumber coach, I am not sure if a Superliner variant could be built. Head clearance or tunnel clearance would become an issue. A Superliner car could hold 10 old style roomettes and 20 beds in sections. Ordering a new round of traditional slumber coaches would be easier on the East Coast due to them using Viewliners.
In Amtrak's current state, they are making $0.00 off of my long distance travels due to lacking a budget sleeper option. The point of a budget sleeper would be about expanding market share, not cannibalizing its existing market share. Even if Coach passengers take a spot in a berth instead of a seat on a 400-500 mile trip, Amtrak could get away with charging Business class rates for a berth. There are also some overnight segments in the 400-500 mile range. Emeryville to Portland is 600 miles, that is an overnight trip, LA to Tucson is also in that range.
The capacity of the cars are listed as:
Superliner Coach = 62
Superliner Sleeper = 44
Viewliner II Coach = 59
Viewliner Sleeper = 30
As far as a budget sleeper option, I would say:
Take a hard look at the cost of providing quality restaurant-style food service to all classes of passengers. Come up with a fair estimate as to how much value that adds, and build that number in to the ticket price for all classes of passengers as a subsidy. Just make sure that the food is worth it (in recent years, it hasn't been!).
Then, with a solid floor of revenue pledged to the diners, have three (four) classes of tickets:
Coach. Minimal amenities.
(opt) Business class. Slightly better seating and free non-alcoholic beverages in the cafe car upon request, along with a snack amenity mid-morning and afternoon. Pay extra for meals, but with an optional meal plan.
Budget sleeper. You get a private room(ette), and have access to coffee, juice, and perhaps snacks in your sleeper car. Pay extra for meals.
Premium sleeper. Everything which budget sleeper includes, plus coupons for breakfast, lunch & dinner in the dining car. Coupons include gratuity, and dinner coupons include one serving of choice of alcoholic beverage. If you object to consuming (and paying for) alcohol, book budget sleeper.
Interesting observations, however in your discussion of F&B costs, I note there is no discussion of F&B revenue. The meals for sleeper passengers are not “free”, they have been prepaid by the sleeper passengers whether they eat them or not.
Until revenue is properly accounted for, there will never be a chance break even unless meals, food and beverages are totally eliminated.
You may not be a business wunderkind, but you have a sound business mindset. That approach is correct.
The fundamental issue is that if you do any form of lie-flat, the roomettes are actually the most efficient way to do it, geometrically. There is no point in a lie flat product which is less fancy than a roomette, none at all.
Just need more roomettes on the single level trains. Where are those Viewlier IIs?
VIA Rail tried this on some routes, with your last two options called "Sleeper" and "Sleeper Plus". For some reason they went back to all Sleeper Plus including meals. Someone else may have insight into why. Still, it might work for Amtrak - especially on Eastern routes where optional meals would be preferable.
Regarding food, I had a brainstorm a while back. I suggest people look up Singapore Airlines "Book the Chef" program.
Anyway, my brainstorm. Pre-order and prepay all meals days or a week before travel. Make it a ticket add-on, like the pet ticket or bike ticket. Zero wasted food. Supply a large selection of choices to be provided -- boxed -- by outside caterers at the starting points of the trains (NY, CHI, BOS, MIA, NOL, etc). Each meal would have a ticket number and customer name printed on it when it was loaded on the train. Boxes would be standardized into a cold component and a hot component. The attendant would be responsible for finding the right meal when the customer wanted it, and reheating the hot component. Food could be supplied at multiple price and quality points, from cheap junk to expensive nice food. (See also Singapore Airlines extremely extensive menu of special dietary needs meals.) The caterer would simply get a manifest of food orders a week in advance, would prep them on the right day and load them onboard. Amtrak pricing would be the caterer's price plus a markup, *guaranteeing* an accounting profit on each meal sold.
The problem with "contemporary dining" is that the food is garbage. There is no reason for this. That loses money. This could be solved by completely outsourcing the actual purchase of food. Amtrak would be like GrubHub, charing a service charge while passing the order along to a separate actual restaurant. Accounting profits, wide selection of food, everyone gets what they want. Only downside is that food must be preordered but I have heard precisely zero complaints about that idea.
This brainstorm was inspired by the extremely nice boxed meals I preordered at Glimmerglass Opera some years back.
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