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Amtrak Hiawatha line forgoes monthly pass leaving riders with minimal options, doubling ride fares

A monthly ridership used to cost $400, now it's $840
Amtrak
Posted at 11:44 AM, Dec 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-13 12:44:01-05

STURTEVANT — It's a massive change for folks who ride Amtrak, specifically the Hiawatha line.

For years, Amtrak has offered a monthly pass for riders, now they're moving to a 10-ride pass only. This change more than doubles the cost for commuters who go to and from Chicago daily.

"Amtrak was the cheapest and best way for me to get down," rider Jim Windsor said.

It's been that way for Windsor and other daily riders for the last decade. In November, things changed.

"There was no warning. There was nothing from Amtrak that told me this was going to take place," Windsor explained.

AMTRAK MONTHLY PASS VS. 10-RIDE PASS

Passengers used to be able to buy a monthly Amtrak Hiawatha pass for $400. The Hiawatha line connects southeast Wisconsin to downtown Chicago, with minimal stops.

Now, Amtrak shifted gears and is only offering a 10-ride pass, or five round trips, for $210. Meaning, commuters like Windsor are now forced to pay $840 per month just to get to work.

"I can't afford it. I don't think many people can and that was the only way I could find work was down in Chicago. If I can't go there, what am I going to do," Windsor asked.

A spokesperson for Amtrak said that they're not a commuter line. That's despite the several people we talked to who take the Hiawatha line daily during the week.

Now, riders said they're looking for other modes of transportation.

"I'm gonna have to abandon Amtrak. I'm gonna have to buy myself another car, drive to Kenosha, and take the other railroad service from there," Windsor said.

That alone would add more than an hour to Windsor's already long commute.

PRICE COMPARISON TO OTHER PUBLIC TRANSIT TO CHICAGO

When you compare prices, Amtrak is charging $840 for 20 round trips, or a normal workweek commute for a month. Metra, the other train service that goes from Kenosha to Chicago, has several fare offers, all of which are cheaper than Amtrak. Excluding holiday and app deals, the same 20 trips would cost about $360 on Metra.

"Metra is cheaper, but Amtrak is better," Windsor added.

Another rider, David Hefti, said that Amtrak has failed to provide clear and transparent communication on their recent 119% increase in commuter fares on the Hiawatha line.

Hefti, who was unable to interview on camera Tuesday, told us "by more than doubling the cost of commuting to over $10,000 per year, Amtrak has shown that they are no longer committed to the longstanding economic relationship between Chicago and Milwaukee markets."

Amtrak refused to go on camera for an interview Tuesday.

We sent several questions to its communications team and still got little response to our questions and more specifically, why Amtrak prices have skyrocketed.

This is the statement they sent us instead:

"We are working in partnership with Wisconsin DOT and are always looking at ways to serve both regular and new customers. In addition to offering some lower fares since October, we are also following travel pattens. While downtown Chicago business traffic has steadily improved since the end of the COVID-19 emergency, it is still quite far from the pre-COVID levels. Likewise, Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday travel continues to be much higher on morning southbound and evening northbound trains than on the other weekdays. That was not the pre-COVID travel pattern. We will continue to carefully balance how tickets are sold and revenue is earned by these trains, sharing that proprietary data with the Wisconsin and Illinois DOT’s. All of us have the same goals: maximizing ridership and revenue to reduce state contract costs while providing a safe, reliable and valued service to our customers. These technically are intercity trains, not commuter, which is ordinarily defined as city to suburb. We appreciate a significant percentage of our travelers are in fact regularly commuting between home and work and we are grateful for their business."

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation also deals with the Hiawatha line.

A spokesperson with WISDOT asked for an extension to the story deadline Tuesday as they said they'd like to provide an "accurate assessment of what's happening with the monthly pass."

In addition, they said that they've heard from 13 commuters who rely on Hiawatha's monthly pass and have been in communication with each of them.

Commuters we talked to said otherwise.

"Nothing has been heard. They have not contacted me, they have not contacted any of my friends that ride on the Hiawatha," Windsor said.