Mostly, however, I’m disappointed. The federal government has spent more than $34 billion in general revenue taxpayer dollars (that is, tax dollars from sources other than user-fees, like the gas tax) on highways since 2008 alone. The surface transportation reauthorization bill currently being debated in Congress includes $12 billion more in general funds for highways. And yet, as evidenced by this story, the point of view that says passenger rail is the only mode of transportation that receives federal investment persists.
If Ms. de Rugy—or the blogger over at View From the Wing, who wrote the original entry—had bothered to contact us, they would’ve learned some valuable facts. One being that NARP is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. This means that, by law, the vast majority of our expenditures (and thus staff time) is spent on activities other than lobbying. Also, we cannot contribute to politicians, take part in elections, or do anything that constitutes electioneering. Indeed, the prohibition against electioneering has been in our by-laws since our founding in 1967, a quarter century before we became a 501(c)(3).
The bloggers could’ve found out that NARP spends most of its time educating the American public on the benefits of train travel. About how energy efficient train travel is—20% more energy efficient per passenger mile than airlines, and 27% more energy efficient per passenger mile than cars (Oak Ridge National Laboratory). How the U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that every $1 billion invested in rail directly creates 20,000 jobs. How Amtrak trains serve rural communities that have no other public transportation.
Finally, I would’ve directed them to the section of Amtrak’s website that shows the full discount list, which includes essentially the same discount for AAA members and for active-duty military personnel and their spouses and dependents. An even more generous discount (15% off rail fare) is available to members of Veterans Advantage, Student Advantage, holders of the International Student Identity Card, and anyone age 62 and over. That’s right: members of the American Automobile Association are eligible to receive the same 10% discount on Amtrak travel as NARP members. Amtrak is marketing its services to travelers of all stripes, whether they’re drivers, flyers, or—surprise—rail passengers.
This was NRO’s biggest mistake: NARP doesn’t represent Amtrak; NARP is a voice for passengers. We’ve been working for over 40 years for a modern, customer-focused national passenger train network that provides a travel choice Americans want.