Improving the financial sustainability of the Amtrak network should be the result of the new twice daily Amtrak bus connection at Albany running north to Bennington – Manchester – Rutland – Middlebury – Vergennes – Burlington that began in July.
The basic concept of the 150 Amtrak bus connections across the country is to link destinations not served by rail and feed additional passengers onto the train. Sometimes, as is the case for Rutland, the bus will offer additional trip times in addition to existing trains. Amtrak issues a combined ticket covering both the bus and rail travel for one price. Passengers benefit from an expanded network.
Two financial models enable Amtrak bus connections: either the connecting bus is chartered and dedicated to Amtrak passengers or there is a marketing arrangement which pays the bus operator for each Amtrak passenger on an already existing service.
The new Albany – Rutland – Burlington connection is an existing service run by Vermont TransLines and supported by the state of Vermont using federal funds. Adding a marketing arrangement with Amtrak means new riders and revenue for Vermont TransLines, which will lower the subsidy required and the new connecting passengers will bring Amtrak new passengers and revenue as well.
Where Amtrak charters a bus to provide a dedicated connection, the revenue these passengers bring in from their total journey covers both the cost of the bus charter and increases the total train revenue.
While the revenue from local travel may not pay for the cost of the bus, passengers taking long train trips who start on a bus connection provide so much additional revenue that the cost of paying for the bus connection is a win against the increased financial performance of the whole system.
You can see that it is critically important that the accounting tells the story fully. A cost-cutter might look at the fares coming in for the local bus and miss the greater revenue addition offered by their total journey ticket prices.
Given the financial win that results from bus connections, it makes sense to ask where else should we connect?