Virginia May Seek Amtrak Fare Cuts

In an effort to boost ridership, Virginia officials are mulling a fare cut for Amtrak travel within the state.

A study found that a 15 percent fare reduction would draw an estimated 51,000 additional riders onto trains, a 7 percent increase.

It also would cost the state $683,000 annually, which is about 1.3 percent of what the state collects in ticket revenues.

Fares would only be reduced for trips within Virginia and Washington on the four trains funded by the state for travel to Newport News, Norfolk, Richmond and Roanoke.

The proposed fare cut was one recommendation of a larger marketing study commissioned by the state’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation to study sagging ridership.

Ridership on Amtrak trains funded by Virginia fell 1.4 percent to 839,446 during Amtrak’s fiscal year 2018, which ended Sept. 30.

The lost revenue would be considered modest, a consultant said, when seen in the context of the desire of transit officials to maximize ridership over ticket revenue in an effort to get more cars off the road.

Although state officials still need to discuss the fare cuts with Amtrak, they hope to lower fares within the first three months of 2019.

They blamed the falling ridership on train cancellations caused by construction and extreme weather.

The ridership loss also occurred during a time when Amtrak was removing a number of fare discount programs.

“They used to have AAA and student discounts and all kinds of other things, and they got rid of that, and we thought, well, there are fewer people riding the train, how price sensitive are Virginia customers?” said Chris Smith, the Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s policy director.

The marketing study conducted for Virginia included a passenger survey and focus groups.

It suggested a 25-percent-off “saver” fare for tickets purchased two-weeks or more in advance as well as creating other fare bargains for Virginia-sponsored trains.

The reduced fares, if implemented, would drop the price of a trip from Roanoke to from $49 to $41.

Amtrak saver fares would still be less expensive for travelers who can plan trips in advance.

The fare cut idea was presented this week to the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s rail subcommittee where it received a largely favorable reaction.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t even think about using this as a transportation mode,” said Hampton Roads District board member John Malbon. “During a time when you have the capacity, why don’t you just fill the trains up and it’s a new customer?”

Roanoke District board member Ray Smoot concurred.

“The train’s running anyway,” he said.

Virginia officials are also seeking to prod Amtrak into making improvements, such as more reliable on-board WiFi and better food offerings.

They also want to see Amtrak do better in cleaning its trains.

Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: