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Posted at 1:44 PM ET, 01/24/2011

VRE plans policy, fare hearings

By Jennifer Buske

Virginia Railway Express officials will host a series of six public hearings on proposed fare and policy changes.

The hearings will be held Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. at Rappahannock Regional Library, 1201 Caroline St. in Fredericksburg; Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission, 14700 Potomac Mills Rd.; Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. at Manassas City Hall, 9027 Center St.; Feb. 16 at 12 p.m. at the Washington Court Hotel, 525 New Jersey Ave. NW; Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. at Burke Centre Conservancy, 5701 Roberts Pkwy.; and Feb. 24 at 12 p.m. at VRE's office at 1500 King St.

VRE officials are proposing to modify their step-up ticket, group fare and bicycle policies. Riders who wish to board select Amtrak trains have paid a $10 step-up fee for several years, but commuter rail officials said they want to reduce that fee to $5. VRE officials said by absorbing some of the cost, they hope some riders will shift back to Amtrak and help alleviate the overcrowding found on numerous VRE trains. The fare change will cost VRE about $300,000 and potentially shift about 60,000 riders to Amtrak -- roughly twice the number who rode in fiscal 2010.

VRE officials said they also want to eliminate their group fare discount program. Groups of 10 or more currently get a 50 percent discount on each single-ride ticket. However, with trains over capacity, daily riders have complained about losing seats to one-time riders who paid half the price.

The last policy change relates to bringing bicycles on trains. VRE officials said they want to only allow collapsible bikes on trains because of capacity issues.

By Jennifer Buske  | January 24, 2011; 1:44 PM ET
Categories:  Commuter Rail, Commuting, Passenger Rail, Virginia, Virginia Railway Express  
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The collapsible-bike-only policy is nonsense. These bikes are only allowed on the last three trains each day (3 in the morning inbound, 3 in the evening outbound), and even then, only two bikes max per train.

The bike parking spot requires four seats, sideways bench seats, in one specific area of one car only, on the train. Ending this policy will net VRE 48 extra seats per day (12 morning, 12 evening, two lines).

VRE is indeed crowded, but it is misguided to blame the overcrowding on the bikes, which are not all that common anyway. It is also silly to think this will make any difference, since the original policy was crafted to select trains that weren't crowded anyway.

Is 12 seats each morning on each line really going to go that far in reducing overcrowding? No, it is not - VRE needs to address the real issue, which is overall capacity, and work with Norfolk Southern, CSX, the Feds, and any other stakeholders in an honest attempt to address the real problem, and not engage in band-aid fixes.

Posted by: ennepe68 | January 30, 2011 5:03 PM | Report abuse

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