Thursday, June 01, 2006

Scamtrak...


The moment I know everyone from class has desperately been waiting for... I am seeking vengeance on Amtrak. I hate puns, but after this weekend, Scamtrak is more like it. For those of you not aware of the back story, I was currently in NYC for several co-op interviews and decided that I did not want to deal with the stuffiness of the Greyhound bus to New York. Fung-Wah was definitely out of the question as well since the last time I took it I had to pump the gas for the bus because the driver couldn't figure it out. Anyway, while Greyhound offers cheap fares to NYC this was to be my 2nd round trip from Boston to New York in 3 days. I wanted comfort, courtesy, and peace of mind that I would arrive on time - something you can't expect on a bus.

So the train it was. I have taken Amtrak many times before without a problem, so I am not blogging to tell you to never take Amtrak. I just want to share a little bit of negative altruism so that none of you have the same experience happen. I was scheduled to leave New York at 3 in the morning and make it back to Boston in time for my 8am finance class. My mom purchased my ticket online so that I didn't have to worry about my timing after my interviews ended. Unfortunately it also meant that I did not possess the credit card used to purchase the ticket. The following occurred between the hours of 230 and 330am (for you 24 fans):

245am: Upon arriving well ahead of time for the little to no security checks (even in Penn Station) I realized something was not right. There wasnt a single ticket window open so that I could get my ticket from will call; and without traveling with the credit card, I could not use the express kiosks. I pondered for a moment...

248am: I asked an amtrak employee who was directing some people and he told me all I needed was the reservation/confirmation number, which I had. Bingo. "You're all set" he said.

255am: A man who spoke little English asked me what track his 530 train to Chicago was on. In broken Spanish I told him he was a little early and he wouldn't know what track it was on until it came. I also told him to go grab some coffee across the street and wait.... because I remembered how to say that in Spanish.

311: I am on the train. Armed with the words of the Amtrak employee. The conductor asks me for my ticket. I explain that I have the confirmation number and have already paid for the ticket online with a credit card. This conversation ensued:

Conductor: "okay, that will be 75 dollars."
Me: "I paid for the ticket already. I was told you just need a confirmation number which I have"
Conductor: "you have to pay for the ticket on the train."
Me: "I already paid for the ticket, why would I pay for it again?"
Conductor: (angry now) "You have to pay for the ticket now and call our 800 number in the morning to refund your credit card money."
Me: #&!!! Thats my only option?
Conductor: Yes.
Me: I guess Im off your train then.

And within moments, I could have been another stranded passenger. Luckiliy, my girlfriend lives only a few blocks away and I was able to stay there. However, I wonder how many others have been stuck in midtown Manhattan overnight because Amtrak refuses to advertise this little flaw in their system (This is the only info page on picking up tickets you see before you recieve your ticket). Either way I missed both my classes. I couldn't imagine if I had missed an important business meeting or something else major had I been someone else. It's not only a terrible policy, but seems like a scam. How many people traveling overnight on business are going to remember to call the 800 number after a long conference the next day? How many conductors are gonna pocket some of that cash? These aren't answers you can just find out, but it might make you think... and atleast make you aware. Amtrak needs to post this policy on a main page, or make the information automatic in confirmation emails when you purchase late night train advance tickets. Otherwise, you can fly to Laguardia in under an hour for less than or equal to the cost of the train, without paying twice... Delta Shuttle... here I come.



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4 comments:

couture said...

I'm very sorry to hear of your misfortune however, regrettably i must say from experience that Amtrak is not all it's cracked up to be! You think you are playing it safe and taking the most comfortable and reliable means of transportation, but in reality you're paying $70 (one way) for second rate service. You see Amtrak's Acela trains have priority on the track and on schedules unfortunately this first rate service will cost you... $113 to be exact (also one way). Amtrak is my transportation of choice going between my home in Connecticut and school. I must have ridden the train 50 times over the past 3 years and almost everytime i take the regular amtrak train it is running about an hour behind schedule. Thus i am stranded at the train station with my mom getting more and more agitated by the minute because i haven't been able to have a cigarette for 3 days. Anyway, case and point - if you really need to be punctual you're better off spending the extra $40 for the Acela as it is rarely more than 10-15min behind schedule, if at all. On another note that was very kind of you to help out that poor man :) Way to go buddy!

NUlax17 said...

This info is good to know and would be helpful on the Amtrak website. While I usually option for the cheaper travel method (bus), it's good to have this info when I'm looking to take amtrak again to go anywhere. So thank you couture for the info, and thank you Amtrak for leaving me in the dark... and ripping me off.

somerso said...

As an avid Amtrack user as well, I've had my share of issues with them, though I have never not been able to get my ticket at the station even when my mom pays for the ticket (but there are usually ticket windows open)...I have had my train lose power for an hour and had to transfer to other trains, as well as enormous delays from regional trains...

My tips of advice for travelers of Amtrack:

1. when buying a ticket, stick w/student advantage because it gives you 15% off.
2. Stick with "local" trains. Regional trains have to yield to higher priority trains so when they travel long distances, they are normally over 40 min late.
3. DO NOT EAT THE FOOD..stick with beverages.
4. If you are in the occasion where you are booked on a regional, call 1800usarail in advance. The digital female voice talks you through getting your departure time and you can often save yourself trouble waiting in the station for hours.
5. If you always have homework and need your laptop, you can plug in on the train (though it does come in and out of power which can be a pain if the battery for your laptop sucks like mine)

Hope my little tips of advice find you all well.

Anonymous said...

Scamtrak it is! My favorite scam is when the regional AND local trains are typically late, but the Acela is right on time. My last trip from Philly to NYC ended up costing me more than twice as much, because I wanted to be on time to meet friends for lunch. A train ORIGINATING in Philly -- didn't have to travel from anywhere else -- was 40 minutes late even 20 minutes before its scheduled departure time. How is that even possible? I think they do this purposely in certain markets to force you to pay extra for the Acela -- which is a significant increase. Over $100 to travel 90 miles one way seems a bit steep at the very least. Maybe I'm just paranoid, but I'd love to hear how often this scam happens to other people.