Senator knocks Amtrak for offering free rides to writers

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeOvernight Energy: Reporters barred from Day 2 of EPA summit | Dems blame Trump for gas price increases | Massachusetts to get new offshore wind farm Jeff Flake: Trump has 'debased' the presidency Senate Democrats look for traction on gas prices MORE (R-Ariz.) criticized Amtrak on Monday for offering free rides to writers.

Amtrak announced the program after a tweet from a New York City-based writer about wishing Amtrak "had residencies for writers" went viral in January.

The program involves allowing up to 24 writers to take free roundtrip train rides in one of Amtrak's sleeper cars, as long as they have "a passion for writing and an aspiration to travel with Amtrak for inspiration."

The residency program has been popular with online writers, but Flake said Monday that Amtrak should not be giving away free train trips while they are receiving money from the federal government.

"@Amtrak ought to stop taking free rides from taxpayers before giving them out to bloggers #AmtrakResidency," Flake tweeted.

Amtrak has traditionally received about $1 billion from the federal government per year since its inception in 1971, though the company points out often that more than 80 percent of its operating budget is covered by ticket sales.

Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm defended the residency program, arguing that the company could benefit in the long run from positive publicity from the writers' free rides.

"The Amtrak residency campaign concept was created by closely listening to Amtrak customers and fans through social media," Kulm said in an email to The Hill.

"By quickly acting and establishing the program, Amtrak has determined that the Amtrak residency program will be a low-risk, high-reward, marketing initiative," Kulm continued.