VRE should be making mass transit easier to use instead of hiking fares to its riders, contends Paul Milde, a member and former chairman of the railway’s operations board. He voted against the three-percent fare increase at the board’s April meeting. Milde, who represents Aquia District on Stafford Board of County Supervisors, notes the rise in fares, added to the federal government’s slashing its transportation contribution, “has made it harder to afford to ride the train.” The federal cut from $230 to $125 per month went into effect in January, and the VRE price increase will be felt July 1. A VRE survey shows 64 percent of riders are federal employees. Milde, a longtime supporter of efficient train service for his constituents, says VRE rider ship has gone up in the past, even with several fare hikes. VRE has seen a 23 percent soar in passengers in the past five years. Between July and December 2011, the number of riders went up 10.3 percent over 2010. “In December, average daily riders totaled 18,379, which is extremely high for a slow, holiday month,” he adds. “In March, we had 19,171 riders, and on three of 22 March days, there were more than 20,000 riders.” VRE fielded 660 train trips during March and had 14 days with 100 percent on-time performance and only 14 delays.
The commuter railway has served more than 53 million passengers since it started in 1993. In 2011, it had 4.5 million riders, 53 percent of them using the Fredericksburg line. One of VRE’s goals for fiscal year 2012 is to have 92 percent of its trains running on time. Through January, 96 percent of the trains on the Fredericksburg route were on time. By the end of March, that percentage had gone up to 96.8 percent. “Two years ago, the Fredericksburg line was on time only 80 percent of the time, with frequent dips to 60 percent during heat restrictions,” Milde explains. The supervisor has been instrumental in increasing parking for his constituents at both the Brooke and Leeland stations. Work on the 234 parking slots at Brooke station will begin in July and be completed by December. Some 196 parking spots are coming at Leeland station, where utility work is finished, and major site work will be completed by September. Milde also has worked hard to improve VRE’s rolling stock. Today, the railway operates 32 trains with 20 locomotives and 101 rail cars. VRE is a joint project between Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission.
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