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Reminder: Amtrak Subsidies Pale in Comparison to Highway Subsidies

9:14 AM PDT on September 24, 2012

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Mica went after subsidies in this one, and he clearly thinks this is a winning issue. After all, Amtrak has gotten nearly $1 billion a year in federal funds over its 41-year existence. The per-ticket subsidy over the past five years has averaged nearly $51. Mica compared that to other forms of transportation: Using 2008 data, he showed that the average per-ticket subsidy to aviation was $4.28, for mass transit was 95 cents, and for intercity commercial bus service 10 cents.

What’s missing? Highways, of course. Luckily, Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman was on hand to remind him. “In the past four years, the federal government has appropriated $53.3 billion from the general fund of the Treasury to bail out the Highway Trust Fund,” Boardman told the committee. “That’s almost 30 percent more than the total federal expenditure on Amtrak since 1971.”

Considering that about 20 percent of the Highway Trust Fund goes to transit, that’s still more for highways alone over the past four years than Amtrak has ever gotten.

Meanwhile, Amtrak affirmed this week that the rail line covers 85 percent of its operating costs with ticket sales and other revenues [PDF].

Mica did acknowledge in his opening remarks that “almost all forms of transportation are underwritten by subsidies” but didn’t mention roads, despite the massive subsidies road builders receive.

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