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Date: 11/07/19 00:07
NARP/RPA's financial morass
Author: GenePoon

The following, regarding the financial condition of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, also known as Rail Passengers Association, has been put together from information provided by three independent attendees at the NARP/RPA October 2019 RailNation advocacy symposium in Sacramento, California.

In the early autumn of 2017, a prosperous NARP/RPA member died; he bequeathed $4 million to NARP.

In the intervening two years, NARP/RPA has burned through almost $3 million of that money, instead of using it as an endowment, protecting the principal amount, and using only interest to fund operations.

To provide his "idea" of the organization's financial condition, Chair Peter LeCody put out an agitprop graph showing that NARP/RPA had $450,000 in the bank five years ago and over a million now.  It omitted any mention of the $4 million that came, and mostly has gone, in the interim.  Unbelievable.  Well, maybe not.

NARP expected the current, passenger-hostile Amtrak administration to induce more non-members to join, thus increasing its membership roster and the revenues from membership dues.  Instead, membership continues to decline due to non-renewals and few new members joining.  At the Sacramento meeting, no mention was made of how many members NARP actually has, or of the current trend of memberships.

Although its financial contribution was not in the same league as a $4 million bequest, the termination by Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson of the NARP-run Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee and the associated stipend was not mentioned.

NARP staff has finally been instructed to come up with an operating budget that will not use any more funds from the now much-depleted $4 million bequest; unfortunately when such a budget is implemented, the result will likely be members of that very staff being laid off.

Opinion: when such organizations continue to use one shot revenues to fund operations, they eventually go bankrupt.



Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 11/07/19 00:15 by GenePoon.



Date: 11/07/19 03:10
Re: NARP/RPA's financial morass
Author: PRSL-recall

Maybe it's many of the top brass that really needs to go, similar to Amtrak! The financial indiscretions add weight to the overall assessment of what this organization has become.



Date: 11/07/19 03:10
Re: NARP/RPA's financial morass
Author: chrsjrcj

I received a survey from the RPA a few weeks ago, with one question asking if I would leave money behind for the RPA when I die.



Date: 11/07/19 03:45
Re: NARP/RPA's financial morass
Author: joemvcnj

Strange how the organizational cultures of Amtrak and NARP are directly analogous - destructive top management and a mostly inept Board.

Bequeath principals are a one-shot cash infusion that should be used only for a special cause or for an emergency, not all in 3 years, and not for general operating funds to be pissed away. I'd expect such stupidity from Lucy Ricardo or Ralph Kramden, but this is real life.



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 11/07/19 17:26 by joemvcnj.



Date: 11/07/19 05:34
Re: NARP/RPA's financial morass
Author: Flyer92122

They have rubbed me wrong that’s for sure.  What kills me is the fact Amtrak/Anderson canceled RPA’s advisory role and associated stipend but RPA still shows a distinct allegiance/bias to Amtrak/Anderson over the will of its members. 

Case in point Oct 1, Amtrak started flex dining on all eastern routes. This is arguable the biggest change to Amtrak’s service since the train-offs in 1997. The motives for this change are suspect and savings very minimal, latest report two million systemwide savings but no regard for the associated lost revenue which very well could be more.

RPA has been SILENT. They have not mentioned flex dining or it’s reviews from passengers once on any weekly update since flex dining has been implemented. The last four Friday updates have been fluff and honestly not even interesting fluff. Nothing against Chef Maddi or contests for new routes but hello, half the system is in danger of being discontinued.  I can Google or Bing “Amtrak news” on my iPad a couple times a week and find more useful information. I wonder if RPA will talk about the various articles this week on extending the SWC to Colorado or the advocacy going on in Arizona to save the train? I used to look forward to the Friday updates not anymore. 

There are more legitimate grass roots advocacy groups in most states out there where your $25 membership fee will go to true advocacy.

 



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/07/19 05:40 by Flyer92122.



Date: 11/07/19 06:05
Re: NARP/RPA's financial morass
Author: joemvcnj

The ACAC was not only a joke (did they ever report on what they accomplished on a periodic basis ?), but a financial conflict of interest, not merely "appearance" of one. I suspect NARP fears loss of Amtrak 10% ticket discount on the transportation portion and awarding membership dues percentage to their AGR account, which would no doubt cause some members to bolt, but that is not why NARP exists, and pandering to Amtrak and lack of any meaningful analysis also causes members to walk. The Accounting White Paper produced by several smart and productive Board members is never brought up, essentially shoved aside as Amtrak PIP's were also by both Amtrak and NARP.

As I type this, I got an e-mail blast (though have ceased being a member a while ago) for "We need your support".
Misery loves company.



Date: 11/07/19 07:02
Re: NARP/RPA's financial morass
Author: RevRandy

just got the email blast for support, and quite happily made a recurring monthly donation. 

For me we have three alternatives:
1> support RPA as the only national advocacy group we have with established means of communication with both Amtrak and state/commonwealth DOTs. It also serves as a central information source based on facts not rumors or speculation from sources few of us can access

2> try to do the work of transit advocacy on an ad hoc basis, mainly locally, ourselves. Some state groups, like ESPA in New York, do a decent job at this but their concerns stop at the state border and depend on the vagaries of volunteers

3> just complain about things

Imperfect as it may be, I choose option 1 because I do not want there to be a vacuum in such advocacy nor rely totally on the personal whims and prejudices of (dare I say it) foamers. 



Date: 11/07/19 07:08
Re: NARP/RPA's financial morass
Author: GenePoon

You may not want to "rely totally on the personal whims and prejudices of (dare I say it) foamers" but at Amtrak, that is how NARP/RPA is viewed. Given that, the communications role is ineffective at best.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/07/19 07:12 by GenePoon.



Date: 11/07/19 07:22
Re: NARP/RPA's financial morass
Author: Flyer92122

Personally I don’t trust where the money is going with RPA and I don’t think we know their true agenda. They don’t even talk about a lot of the “issues” anymore.  Bullet point two below you mentioned other advocacy groups rely on volunteers. Look how the blurb asking for money we all got this morning was signed by RPA ( copied below). I hope they see the light and turn things around because they do have the contacts and infrastructure  to make a difference. Like Amtrak, paid RPA management needs a shake up.

With Warmest Regards,Peter Le Cody, Chairman (Volunteer)
T.J. Girsch, Vice Chair, Finance Committee Chairman (Volunteer)



 

RevRandy Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> just got the email blast for support, and quite
> happily made a recurring monthly donation. 
>
> For me we have three alternatives:
> 1> support RPA as the only national advocacy group
> we have with established means of communication
> with both Amtrak and state/commonwealth DOTs. It
> also serves as a central information source based
> on facts not rumors or speculation from sources
> few of us can access
>
> 2> try to do the work of transit advocacy on
> an ad hoc basis, mainly locally, ourselves. Some
> state groups, like ESPA in New York, do a decent
> job at this but their concerns stop at the state
> border and depend on the vagaries of volunteers
>
> 3> just complain about things
>
> Imperfect as it may be, I choose option 1 because
> I do not want there to be a vacuum in such
> advocacy nor rely totally on the personal whims
> and prejudices of (dare I say it) foamers. 



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/07/19 07:23 by Flyer92122.



Date: 11/07/19 07:39
Re: NARP/RPA's financial morass
Author: mp16

I renewed my membership over a year ago and paid the extra money to have the traditional printed paper newsletter delievered to me by US mail. I have never received the newsletter but RPA cashed my check. I keep receiving notices from them to rejoin but I will not do so.



Date: 11/07/19 08:48
Re: NARP/RPA's financial morass
Author: Duna

GenePoon Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> You may not want to "rely totally on the personal
> whims and prejudices of (dare I say it) foamers"
> but at Amtrak, that is how NARP/RPA is viewed.
> Given that, the communications role is ineffective
> at best.



True. Most passenger railfans live in a fantasy world where the physical equipment is far more important than getting people from point A to B efficiently, independent of mode. For most passenger railfans, mode is everything.

For many passenger railfans, it's a tax-subsidized hobby.

The NMRA has the "Master Model Railroader" (MRR) designation for "exceptional" model railroaders.

Does such a designation exist for superior railfans?



Date: 11/07/19 09:08
Re: NARP/RPA's financial morass
Author: Lackawanna484

The US tax code allows for the creation of various private charitable funds, and allows for the deduction of contributions to these funds.  What the code doesn't do is demand careful accounting of spending and administrative salaries.  Organizations as disparate as the National Public Radio, National Rifle Association, and the Catholic Church have all been caught up in issues around spending for charitable purposes.  The Alfred I. DuPont trust controlled the Florida East Coast Railroad for many years, and has more recently been a generous contributor to pediatric medical care in Florida and Delaware. Following years of litigation to force them to spend money on kids and not family executives.

In one recent case, NY state required the dissolution of a charitable fund which spent almost nothing on charitable expenditures, but paid its family officers extremely well. In another case, the IRS is examining a Catholic diocese in West Virginia that ran up a very substantial jewelry tab on a foundation's dime.



Date: 11/07/19 09:14
Re: NARP/RPA's financial morass
Author: 79mph

Demographic shifts!
Last three generations do not see the necessity of joining and supporting traditional organizations. 
The abandonment of "analog" things that used to be important is across the board, work, religion, hobbies, outdoor activities, schools and education, etc.
If there is something on social media that is "viral" enough, it might lead to a one-shot campaign on "go-fund me" or similar, then it fades from view.

Many of the traditional organizations that parents and grandparents used to volunteer for now have gone commercial, where you have to pay to play.
Look at institutions such as childhood sports, where now if you do not get your child in paid travel ball or commercial cheerleading organizations at age 4 forward, they are forever overlooked. 
Everyone has their hand in the till, such as paying big bucks for coaches and having to book 3 days in a hotel (that gets kickbacks) for a tournament that is within driving distance of most of the kids.
Following the money tends to attract vested interests, but is also a turn off for many who otherwise might become involved.

Last two generations expect that conveniences and perks their elders had to work for will be handed to them.
And nobody complains when institutions disappear if they are not "digital."
Complainers fall into the background category of "fake news."

But on the positive side, we used to have "milkmen" who brought dairy products to the house in re-usable glass containers.
After about 60 years, the "milkman" is returning, using drones and plastic containers.

There is no question that, environmentally, the human race will have to adapt, or go extinct.  Perhaps improved ground transportation infrastructure will turn out to be part of that evolution.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 11/07/19 09:20 by 79mph.



Date: 11/07/19 15:41
Re: NARP/RPA's financial morass
Author: joemvcnj

Yes online social media has put a downward pressure on traditional joining of all groups, including church groups, and avoiding person-to-person contact. Therefore the bar is raised to not behave in a smug, tone-deaf, arrogant, compromised, and incompetent manner. But clearly NARP does not get it and has slid back and then-some to where they were circa 2000-2004. 



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 11/08/19 18:06 by joemvcnj.



Date: 11/08/19 17:34
Re: NARP/RPA's financial morass
Author: njfrn

Hard-hitting writeup in today's RPA Hotline (#1,142) by board member and Secretary Cliff Dunn about his experiences with flexible dining on the Silver Meteor:

"I had the 'pleasure' of Amtrak's new sleeper food service on the Silver Meteor in late October. I place that word in quotes because, when compared to the old service, it would probably take a committed masochist to derive genuine enjoyment from the changes to the food offerings."


 



Date: 11/08/19 17:56
Re: NARP/RPA's financial morass
Author: joemvcnj

Mathews had his piece in PTJ that I got in the mail today.

Not impressed.

Posted from Android



Date: 11/08/19 18:01
Re: NARP/RPA's financial morass
Author: Wosborn

This, is an unusually interesting discussion about organizational weakness,  because it is reflective or larger trends in progress, slowly and painfully.  Many of which go unremarked until the cumulative impact is noticed, by which time the ruins are being examined and folks are asking, what happened, and why did we not see it?

I am an Eagle Scout, and so are both of my sons.  What is happening with that organization?  Effective January 1, 2020, the Mormon Church is withdrawing the requirement that all its young boys join a scout troop.  Because of unhappiness that BSA has decided that sexuality should not be a membership issue.  There can be arguments at length over whether this decision is right or wrong, but the die is cast.

Now what has happened?  Withdrawal of the Mormon Church (which is starting a competing boys youth group) is absolutely devastating to BSA, I will stand to be corrected but I think about 1/4 or even maybe 1/3 of the BSA membership is evaporating at midnight December 31st.  

In the 1970s there were 4 million American boys active in Boy Scouts.  Now the number is a third of that, and shrinking.

There is much discussion of mishandling of a several million dollar bequest to the railroad passenger group, now multiply that by 1000 or more, for estate bequests to the Boy Scouts, such bequests made before all these changes  in that organization started to happen.

What is BSA doing now?  Admitting girls.  It seems strange, however it is a survival mode for BSA, and as weird as it seems to us here in the USA, everywhere else in the world other than England, Scouting is co-ed.

At our ranch we host a scout campout for our troop every February, called Rockets and Rattlesnakes.  For the oldest continuously operating troop in Texas, it is more than 100 years old. Upcoming, approaching the 20th year we have hosted.  This year, for the first time, we are also hosting girls in scouting.  And we will adapt, and make it work, it is the wave of the future, and essential for survival of the organization, in changing times.  BSA is in a forced shrinkage mode, and scout camps like Rancho Cima in Texas, bequeathed to the scouts long ago, are now surplus and having to be sold, to real estate developers.  

I would suppose, that readers of this board can think of other examples.  I will mention one, google research membership trends in traditional protestant religious denominations in this country.  Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal etc.  The membership trends are scary, trending sharply down in all denominations.  To a point of extinction before mid-century, unless current trends are slowed or halted.  But do you see discussion of this situation in mainstream or any stream of national media?  No.  A strange silence prevails, perhaps the silence of the lambs, in the biblical sense.

The railroad passenger group maladministration, is unfortunate, but the larger trends at work, against many long cherished social organizations in this country, are much more so.  Perhaps the future holds better hope for civic organization in America, but it is sure hard to see it now.  I wonder if future analysts will peg the start date of the decline in our social cohesion as happening in 2008, when the Apple I-phone was first released.

- William Osborn    www.texasenergylaw.com   



Date: 11/09/19 08:57
Re: NARP/RPA's financial morass
Author: jp1822

All non-profit organizations are struggling to  recruit and retain volunteers. Lets face it - that represents free labor to the organization. Couple the loss of volunteers with the increase in minimum wage and MANY non-profits are finding that their expenses are going WAY UP. Even an increase of $1 a year (the famous graduated scale to get to $15 per hour or $20 per hour to make for a better wage), can mean the difference of a 25% to 75% increase in a non-profit's annual budget. I am all for better wages and increased wages for workers. But certain sectors of business can't take on this increasing per hour burden and they are going to end up curtailing their services, OR closing. 

The NARP or RPA - I am sure Amtrak wants them gone right now. If they feel they can get some money from Amtrak I am sure they are not going to "rail against" them. In general there silence and lack of anything proactive on any passenger rail issue is certainly deafening! 



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/09/19 09:14 by jp1822.



Date: 11/09/19 10:18
Re: NARP/RPA's financial morass
Author: TiBike

The decline in the number of volunteer firefighters is due to increasing requirements for training and equipping, and increasing restrictions on service. Volunteers aren't free labor, for fire departments or any other organisation, and the cost keeps going up. Even casual community events have to pay for insurance, and if kids are involved, then background checks and certification requirements kick in.

Why rural CA towns vote against taxes to increase fire safety



Date: 11/09/19 13:32
Re: NARP/RPA's financial morass
Author: ts1457

Recently Midwest High Speed Rail changed its focus from being a regional organization to a national one:

https://www.hsrail.org/

Though the name of the successor organization, High Speed Rail Alliance, would indicate a focus on fast trains, I suspect it will be like its predecessor, MWHSR, and support all rail passenger in general. Perhaps the new organization might be a worthy alternative to NARP/RPA. for people's contributions.



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