Here’s more proof, if any was needed, that the most impactful four-letter word in the English language really does stare with an “f.”
Virginia Railway Express’s average daily ridership dropped nearly 10 percent from September to October, according to new counts, as the commuter-rail line reinstated fares that had been eliminated systemwide in September.
That fare-free month had been designed both to encourage ridership as more people began to straggle back to the office, and also to provide an alternative for those impacted by the shutdown of Blue Line Metrorail stations south of Ronald Reagan National Airport due to construction work.
(Free travel continued in October at stations affected by the Metro shutdown, but in other cases Virginia Railway Express resumed collecting revenue from travelers.)
While down, the average daily ridership for the 20 days of operation, totaling 683 trains, in October was more than double the average rate of 2,949 in October 2021.
But ridership has a long – no, make that loooooooong – way to go before getting back to pre-pandemic norms.
Only 11 percent of the seats on peak-hour trains were occupied during October, and revenue from passengers continues to run at only about a quarter the rate of 52 percent of operating costs that the transit agency relied on before the pandemic.
For the month of October, 77 percent of VRE trains were on time, according to data presented to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.
That’s down from 81 percent in September and 86 percent a year ago.
Because VRE uses rail tracks owned by others, it often has no control over delays. The agency noted that rail congestion in and around Union Station had been particularly problematic of late.
The good news for passengers: Of those trains that were late in October, the average delay was just 14 minutes, compared to 23 minutes in September and 31 minutes in August.
Virginia Railway Express provides weekday train service into Alexandria, Arlington and the District of Columbia from points south and southwest during the morning rush hour, then reverses the pattern in the evening.