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Fare evasion a quandary for VRE
VRE still struggling with how to handle ticket evasion and punishment

Date published: 3/17/2012

BY SCOTT SHENK

The Virginia Railway Express continues to struggle with how to handle fare evasion.

Some think the VRE is too strict, while others say enforcement isn't strict enough.

On the one hand, some riders misunderstand the process of validating a ticket, an honest mistake made by many.

On the other hand, there are scofflaws who game the system, riding as many times as they can without validating a ticket.

These habitual offenders can really eat into VRE's fare revenues.

And fare revenue is crucial to VRE's success, so enforcement needs to be strict, CEO Dale Zehner said at Friday's Operations Board meeting.

On average, conductors issue 140 fare-evasion citations each month, according to VRE figures.

That comes out to seven a day among 10,000 riders, Zehner said, calling that figure "peanuts."

Board member Christopher Zimmerman noted that the figure comes out to almost 1,700 citations a year, which he said is significant.

Regardless of how many riders without validated tickets are caught, board members said, there is still the thorny issue of lumping riders who make an honest mistake with those who continuously evade validating tickets.

VRE is trying to draw riders to its trains, but being too strict on ticket enforcement can scare them away, said Zimmerman. He also emphasized the importance of catching and punishing the real scofflaws.

Failing to validate a ticket is a civil offense, and the current punishment is a $100 fine. Virginia lawmakers recently passed legislation to stiffen penalties for those who use fraudulent or counterfeit tickets. Repeat offenders can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $750. A first-time offense carries a $500 fine.

The board members agreed that there needs to be a balanced approach in handling the ticket validation problem.

They emphasized that the validation process needs to be clear.

Zehner showed the board images of signs at VRE stations explaining that riders have to validate their tickets. Some signs were good, others not quite clear enough.

He said VRE is still working on ways to make sure riders know they have to validate their tickets before boarding the trains.

In other matters, the board voted to hire Maryland-based Krauthamer and Associates to conduct a search to replace Zehner, who is retiring this summer.

The search will cost $76,125.

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