The New York Times reports that “Amtrak Dominates Northeast Corridor Travel.” That’s absolutely true–as long as you don’t count buses. Or cars. Or intermediate points between Boston, New York, and Washington.
The Times says that Amtrak has a 75 percent share of the “air/rail” market between Washington and New York, but it only has a 54 percent share of the “air/rail” market between New York and Boston. It doesn’t say anything about intermediate points.
In a more realistic assessment, page 4 of Amtrak’s 2010 Vision for the Northeast Corridor reports that Amtrak carries 6 percent of travel in the Northeast Corridor, while planes carry 5 percent and the remaining 89 percent goes by highway. Amtrak doesn’t break out bus travel, but I estimate buses carry significantly more passengers than Amtrak, or approximately 8 to 9 percent of the corridor market.
The Times admits that “buses are eating into Amtrak’s market share” and blames it on “an aging infrastructure and Congressional opposition” to more subsidies to Amtrak. Well, boo hoo! Amtrak gets subsidies of nearly 30 cents per passenger mile, while subsidies to buses are so small as to be practically undetectable. Bus fares are also “far less than Amtrak,” admits the Times. I guess so: I estimate the average Bolt or Megabus rider pays under $15 to go between Washington and New York, while fares on Amtrak’s trains range from $49 (for the “Regional” trains that make more stops) to $145 (for the Acela, which is 20 minutes faster than the Regional trains).
The Times makes the usual point that Amtrak is time-competitive with airlines when travel times to and from downtowns are included. But even in New York, most people don’t work downtown. Subsidies to Amtrak are subsidies to the high-paid bankers, lawyers, and lobbyists who work in downtown DC and Manhattan.