If Thursday night’s meeting in Manassas to discuss a proposed fare hike for Virginia Railway Express passengers is any indication, things are going fairly swimmingly at the moment for the commuter rail system.
While there were some complaints — train cars being too cold and worries about future fare increases, for example — the small handful of riders mostly seemed to have showed up at Manassas City Hall to praise VRE and ask questions. VRE’s on-time rates have been among the best in its history recently, hovering near 100 percent in recent months.
VRE has proposed a 3 percent fare hike to meet new budget demands. Monthly passes from Fredericksburg currently cost $285.50, while single rides are $10.30 from the same location. If the rate hike is approved, riders with a monthly pass traveling from Fredericksburg to Union Station would see a 22 cent increase per trip, while a single trip would cost 35 cents more. (See a full breakdown of potential increases below).
John Beere, a Manassas resident who started taking the train this January, said that his experience on the commuter train has been pleasant and that he had no objection to the fare increase. “Three percent is more than a bargain” as gas prices get more expensive, he said.
VRE officials say the fare increase is necessary to pay for rising fuel costs and rising payments to its contractors, including Keolis, which provides VRE’s personnel, among other factors.
At the conclusion of this month’s public hearings, VRE staff will brief the Operations Board, which can make changes to proposals. The rail system’s budget is then forwarded to each VRE member locality for adoption, probably sometime in April or May, said VRE spokesman Mark Roeber.
CEO Dale Zehner also said that Keolis has been responsive in placing an emphasis on customer service and that passengers have recently praised the system’s conductors.
As the commuter system competes for state and federal dollars in a tight budget environment, Zehner said, such responsiveness is increasingly important. “Right now, what it’s all about is customer service,” he said.
Listed below are the new per-trip prices that would take effect in each of the VRE’s zones if a 3 percent fare increase is adopted:
• Fredericksburg-Union Station: Monthly: $.22. Single trip: $.35.
• Leeland-Union: Monthly:$.20. Single trip: $.30
• Quantico-Union: Monthly: $.18. Single trip: $.30
• Woodbridge-Union: Monthly: $.16. Single trip: $.25 increase.
• Burke-Union: Monthly $.15. Single trip: $.25.
• Fredericksburg-Quantico: Monthly: $.10. Single trip: $.15.