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VRE passes fare increase

April 21, 2012 12:10 am

BY SCOTT SHENK

BY SCOTT SHENK

DALE CITY

--As of July 1, Virginia Railway Express riders will be paying 3 percent more for their tickets.

The fare rate increase should generate $900,000 during the next fiscal year for the commuter train system, said Dale Zehner, VRE's chief executive officer, at Friday's Operations Board meeting.

The new fare prices will add 15 cents to 35 cents to each ticket, depending on the length of the trip, according VRE figures.

Apparently the first rate increase in two years hasn't caused much angst among riders as there was "unusually low" turnout at the seven public hearings VRE held on the issue, Zehner said.

Four riders showed for the March hearing in Fredericksburg and no one went to the Stafford hearing.

Still, two area representatives on the VRE board voted against the increase--Susan Stimpson and Paul Milde, both members of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors.

They said they couldn't support a rate hike while there is also going to be a 3 percent increase in the annual subsidy for VRE member localities.

In fiscal 2011, Stafford's subsidy was $2.734 million. Localities also take in millions of dollars each year from the VRE gas tax.

"I don't think a fare increase is warranted at this time," Stimpson said during the meeting.

Milde said raising the rate isn't going to draw in new riders.

"I think we should be encouraging people to ride the rail instead of riding on the roads," he said after the meeting. "That isn't to say it isn't a good deal."

Fred Howe, a member of the Fredericksburg City Council and VRE board, voted for the increase. He said the additional revenues will help VRE keep up its level of service as well as continue improving equipment, such as getting more rail cars to alleviate crowding.

NUMBERS DOWN IN MARCH

On the heels of a year in which VRE continuously broke ridership records, March was a downer.

The 19,171 ridership figures for last month were 2 percent less than the same time a year ago. The change represents about 400 fewer rider trips a day, according to VRE.

About 5,000 Fredericksburg-area commuters use VRE to get to and from work each weekday.

In his CEO report, Zehner said there is typically a drop in riders in the spring, so the decrease could be partly caused by that. But he also noted that VRE is keeping an eye on whether the drop in the federal commuter benefit and/or rail car overcrowding could be driving riders away.

"My feeling is, we'll hold where we are and might slightly increase," he said during Friday's meeting.

The news on the VRE usage front isn't all bad.

So far, the overall ridership figures for this fiscal year, which ends June 30, are up nearly 8 percent. And fare revenues are on pace this fiscal year to come in at $2 million over the budgeted estimate of $33 million.

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





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