Northern Virginia commuter rail riders would be reimbursed for late fees charged by their day-care centers if their trains are delayed by 15 minutes or more, under a proposal being considered by Virginia Railway Express officials.
Such a move, designed to lure more young parents onto commuter trains running between Fredericksburg, Manassas and Washington, D.C., would be unique on the region's public transit scene. If approved by the VRE operating board at its meeting tomorrow, the policy could go into effect within 30 to 45 days, said VRE spokesman Matt Benka.
A rider could be reimbursed for late charges, about $1 a minute for many area day-care centers, up to four times a year. There would be no limit on the amount a rider could get back.
The policy would apply only to riders on Fredericksburg line trains that leave Washington at 3:38 p.m. and 4:05 p.m. and are scheduled to arrive in Fredericksburg at 5:08 p.m. and 5:35 p.m.; and Manassas line trains that leave Washington at 3:45 p.m. and 4:25 p.m. and are due in Manassas at 4:49 p.m. and 5:27 p.m.
The day-care provider must be licensed and must not close before 6 p.m., and the train must be at least 15 minutes late.
About 8 percent of VRE's approximately 3,800 regular riders say day care is a concern when they decide to take the train, and many commuters who drive say that they don't take transit for fear they won't be able to get back home on time to pick up children in day care.
Del. John A. "Jack" Rollison III (R-Prince William), who also serves as a VRE board member, said the reimbursement policy also would help VRE's performance by providing an incentive for on-time service. "We're willing to shoulder the responsibility, and we're willing to make the commitment to on-time service," Rollison said.
Fairfax County Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee), who heads VRE's operations board, called the program a "home run." Kauffman estimated the program would cost $25,000 for the first year -- an amount that could be covered if VRE were to get 12 new riders.
"It certainly hits close to home for me as the parent of a toddler," Kauffman said.
Encouraged by growth in ridership and revenue, VRE officials also are considering adding trains at midday and on holidays. VRE is running about 600 trips per day ahead of its projections for this year. Running a midday train outbound on both the Fredericksburg and Manassas lines would cost $475,000 a year, but officials estimate the cost could be covered by additional ridership, Benka said.
The holiday schedule would serve a growing number of VRE riders who do not work for the federal government, Benka said. If approved, train service would operate at half strength on the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, Presidents' Day, Columbus Day and Veterans Day. VRE has always run a reduced schedule on Independence Day.