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Few people show up for VRE fare-hike hearing

March 14, 2012 12:10 am

BY SCOTT SHENK

The Virginia Railway Express representatives nearly outnumbered the riders at Tuesday night's public hearing to discuss the proposed 3-percent fare increase.

Dale Zehner figured the low turnout was a good sign.

Years ago, the CEO said, when VRE planned rate hikes, Fredericksburg's public hearings drew the biggest crowds.

That's when service was not very good, he said. Now, however, ridership is up and trains are on time about 97 percent of the time.

"We're in the best position we've ever been in," he said.

But, to keep up that service, it'll take more money, he told the four riders who attended the hearing at the Rappahannock Regional Library.

Ralph Eagleton, who lives in Spotsylvania and works for Homeland Security, asked Zehner if VRE planned to raise rates again next year.

Zehner said they probably would. VRE's six-year plan includes possible fare increases of 4 percent in the 2015 and 2017 fiscal years.

Eagleton, a seven-year VRE rider, noted that as a federal worker he's had his pay frozen and has to pay more into his retirement.

Zehner said the increase is partly due to an expected cut of millions in state and federal funding.

"It's the world we live in," he said.

The rate increase would range from 15 cents to 35 cents per ticket, depending on the length of the trip, according to information from VRE.

The rate increase is expected to generate about $900,000 next fiscal year if daily ridership figures hold at the current average of 19,000.

Zehner said VRE has to make up for the decreased funding somewhere.

A 3-percent hike for each VRE member locality is another way to generate revenue, about $485,000, according to VRE numbers.

Another local public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. on March 29 in the Board of Supervisors Chambers of the Stafford County Government Center, 1300 Courthouse Road. VRE has scheduled a total of seven public hearings.

The proposed rate increase would be the first in two years. VRE imposed a 16-percent total fare increase in the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years.

If the increase is approved, it will take effect in July.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436
Email: sshenk@freelancestar.com





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