by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) said he was going to spend $2 on a burger and a soda at McDonald’s to prove concessions on Amtrak were costing taxpayers too much money.
Mica held a hearing this week touting a report that the national passenger rail service, which is subsidized by Congress, lost $833 million on purchasing food and drinks to sell to passengers on its trains.
He said the losses were “staggering” because federal law requires Amtrak to break even on concessions.
“It costs passengers $9.50 to buy a cheeseburger on Amtrak, but the cost to taxpayers is $16.15,” Mica (R-Fla.) said in a statement. “Riders pay $2.00 for a Pepsi, but each of these sodas costs the U.S. Treasury $3.40.”
Mica is in a contentious member-versus-member primary with freshman Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Fla.). Adams has sharply criticized Mica for supporting legislation like the recently approved $105 billion highway bill, which she said spent too much money on transportation.
Mica’s office said Friday that his trip to a McDonald’s near the U.S. Capitol was about making sure transportation money was spent wisely.
The long-time Florida lawmaker’s lunchtime trip will illustrate the “outrageous taxpayer subsidization of Amtrak’s food and beverage service,” Mica’s office said.
Amtrak has received an annual subsidiary for its operations since it was set up by Congress to replace a network of private rail companies in 1971.
Lawmakers in the House have introduced a bill that would require the agency to contract with private companies to provide cheaper concession services. The measure, H.R. 3362, is sponsored by Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio).
The report about the Amtrak concession losses caught the attention of the hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show on Friday. The panel scoffed at the reported Amtrak loses, with one host, Mike Barnicle, asking “who’s stealing the processed veal on Amtrak?”
Amtrak supporters have defended the agency’s concession sales, however, arguing that the prices were reasonable for the services that are provided.
“Part of what attracts people to Amtrak services is the availability of food, and the manner in which it is offered,” Amtrak CEO Boardman said during the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on Thursday.
“If we were to eliminate food and beverage services, we would actually lose more money, because of the loss in associated ticket revenue,” Boardman said.