Virginia Railway Express officials said Friday that they are not planning to change “fare evasion” policies designed to crack down on those who try to ride trains for free, but which sometimes leave unaware passengers confused and angry.
The concern from some riders as well as members of VRE’s Operations Board is that those who are simply confused by the railway’s two-step process for riding the trains may get ticketed and fined $100 when they thought they had followed the rules. Passengers have to buy a ticket and then “validate” it at the station before getting on a train.
Conductors, who randomly check tickets in rail cars, are expected to issue citations when they find passengers who haven’t validated their ticket.
While passengers can approach a conductor on the platform to report problems with validating their ticket, board members said they often receive e-mails from those who weren’t aware of the policy, despite posted signs. Conductors are now issuing an average of about 140 tickets per month.
Christopher Zimmerman, who sits on VRE’s board as a supervisor for Arlington County, said the system should be careful not to alienate riders.
“We’re in a business where we’re trying to attract people,” he said. “A lot of people do not know and do not realize. And those are people you then lose.” Riders have other options, he said.
Jonathan Way, a Manassas city council member who is on the VRE board, compared the two-step process to IRS rules: “You just have to do it,” he said.
Fines and citations are important deterrents, as fare sales make up about 65 percent of the rail system’s budget and are becoming even more important because of potential cuts in federal and state funding, said VRE spokesman Mark Roeber.
Zehner said VRE will continue education campaigns and is seeking more authority from the state to increase fines on those caught multiple times with fake tickets. Counterfeit tickets are a misdemeanor and can mean up to a $500 fine.
VRE also plans to hire Krauthamer and Associates of Chevy Chase to conduct a search for the organization’s next chief executive. The contract is not to exceed $76,125. Board members hope to start interviewing candidates in the next 45 days.
Zehner announced in February that he would retire June 30.