Very few attend VRE fare increase proposal hearings


Passengers board the Virginia Railway Express(VRE) during the evening rush hour at the L'Enfant Plaza stop. (Gerald Martineau)

Federal and state taxes are going up, the price for gas is generally ascending, and the middle class pocketbook is perpetually constrained.

But, to judge from the number of Virginia Railway Express riders who have showed up at recent public hearings to weigh in on a proposed average 4 percent fare increase, it would seem that VRE’s proposal has largely escaped public ire thus far.

That was especially the case in Woodbridge Wednesday: not a single passenger showed up for a public hearing, leaving four senior VRE officials with plenty of handouts but no audience. The increase would mean it would cost a rider $232.40 per month or $8.45 for a single trip from Woodbridge to Union Station. From Manassas, the fare increase would mean $250.80 per month or $9.10 for a single trip to Union Station.

Two riders showed up to a public hearing in Burke and three in Stafford, said Mark Roeber, a VRE spokesman. Riders have said that VRE remains reliable and a good deal. Some have said they’d rather not pay an increased fare, but they will.

“It’s a great value,” said Rich Dalton, VRE’s Chief Operating Officer, in an interview at the empty public hearing. “If they were concerned, they would show up. They keep us honest.”

VRE officials say that the primary reasons for the proposed increase are rising costs for its contractors. Its primary contractor, Keolis, which employs much of VRE’s on-the-ground staff, has a contract that’s pegged to the Consumer Price Index. Similarly, VRE pays an automatic 4 percent increase every year to access CXS and Norfolk Southern’s rail lines.

Last year, VRE split a 6 percent budget hike between the Northern Virginia jurisdictions that contribute to VRE and passenger fare increases, which rose 3 percent on average.

Federal subsidies for government employees have largely kept pace with the increases, at $245 per month, one thing Dalton said helps many see VRE as a good investment, especially considering construction and traffic on Interstate 95.

If approved in April by Northern Virginia and state officials who control VRE, the price hike would go into affect on July 1.

Jeremy Borden covers Prince William County, Va., for The Washington Post.
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