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VRE Holding Fare Hearings

Throughout September, VRE will be holding daytime and nighttime hearings on a new round of fare increases.

There's a session today from noon to 2 p.m. at the Crystal City Marriott, and you can see the rest of the schedule on this VRE page.

VRE is in the same spot as many of the Washington area's transit services: Ridership is surging, and so are expenses. The increase in riders isn't enough to close the gap on costs. Every public transit service operates with a government subsidy, but times are tough and the subsidies are limited to hold down taxes. Riders will make up the difference. (There will be some cost cuts, but significant cost cuts involve service cutbacks, and transit agencies are reluctant to do that with service so popular.)

This is VRE's proposed strategy:
There would be two fare increases over the next year. The first, in January, would increase ticket prices up to 15 percent. The second, at the end of June, would raise prices up to 10 percent.

The board that operates VRE will decide on the first fare increase in October. Then it will rule in December on the second one. The VRE staff will be working on cost cuts to limit the second increase.

The most likely type of service cutback to be considered: Elimination of midday trains.

What costs more:
-- Fuel is up 78 percent over the past fiscal year, VRE says, and will exceed the budget by about $4 million annually in this fiscal year and the next if the trend continues.
-- Increased labor costs followed Amtrak's settlement of a longtime dispute with its workers, who operate VRE trains. VRE is responsible for its share.
-- Better maintenance of the aging locomotives improved their performance but pushed costs up $1 million, VRE says.

The revenue scene:
-- VRE was looking forward to $25 million a year from the state but that disappeared when the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the funding plan in House Bill 3202 was unconstitutional. The General Assembly met in a special session to resolve the problem and produced nothing.
-- VRE gets local government funding through regional gas taxes. Those gas revenues have been going up, but VRE isn't sure how much struggling local governments will be willing to pass along.

Comment:
See a schedule for the hearings here.

You can also send comments by e-mail to publiccomment@vre.org. Or by fax to 703-684-1313. Mark it "Attn: Public Comment."

By snail mail: Virginia Railway Express
Attn: Public Comment
1500 King Street, Suite 202
Alexandria, VA 22314


By Robert Thomson  |  September 16, 2008; 8:33 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting , Transportation Politics , transit  
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