Hispanics make up half the population of California’s Central Valley. Los Angeles has 5 million Hispanics (9% of the nation’s population). And 23% of the Bay Area population is Hispanic. So why does Amtrak California struggle to attract Hispanic riders? Hispanic ridership on the San Joaquin service is only 20%.
Larry Miller, who served on the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee, says there are several reasons. First of all, Amtrak has not done much marketing of its services in Spanish. He notes a recent “Companions Ride Free” promotion that had coupons printed only in English:
When I asked about the Spanish versions with coupons in Spanish, we were told that they had only printed these in English. At this point my elected counterpart, Fresno County Supervisor Judy Case, became upset, reminding them that roughly 70% of her constituents were Hispanic.
Amtrak complies with Homeland Security laws, instituted in the wake of 9-11, requiring riders to show government-issued photo identification — very much as airlines do. Amtrak diligently informs ticker buyers of this requirement, even though it intimidates prospective riders who are not legal residents and offends sympathetic friends and family who are legal residents.
This is yet another way that TSA security policies actually make us less safe. By discouraging train travel, it results in more car trips — and more road accidents. Larry Miller hopes that California’s new non-resident driver’s license law will help attract more Hispanic riders. That seems implausible. Travelers afraid of getting deported aren’t going to submit travel plans to a government-run train service. Not when they hear news stories of VIPR and ICE patrols on buses and trains.