AER could extend ‘tariff-free’ season for Alexandria into October | ALXnow

While the Virginia Railway Express (AER) works through plans to make September fare-free for all riders, this could be extended into October for riders in Alexandria dealing with the metro closure.

Plans for the AER are scheduled to be reviewed at the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission meeting on Thursday, July 7th.

A report (page 155) of AER CEO Rich Dalton said that although the pandemic has hit AER’s ridership, a month without fares would simultaneously be a “thank you” to loyal customers and could attract new riders to AER:

September is typically a month when the regional transport system is strained as children return to school and workers return from summer holidays and has historically been one of the busiest months for AER. Many federal agencies are expected to move to more permanent in-office work schedules this September, moving away from remote work scenarios instituted during the pandemic. While many agencies and private employers will continue to allow remote working, most will require their employees to be more present in the office. Employees believe offering free fares for the month of September will encourage commuters considering different commuting options to try VRE.

The tariff-free month also coincides with the start of the shutdown of subway lines south of National Airport.

“Starting September 10, WMATA will close Metrorail stations south of Reagan National Airport on both the Blue and Yellow Lines,” the report reads. “This shutdown will last at least six weeks and AER will make an important contribution to mitigation efforts in the region. Allowing passengers to board for free in September will maximize VRE usage during the first half of the shutdown.”

The report also says that AER plans to extend the free fare into October for drivers traveling between Alexandria and Crystal City, either going across the river to L’Enfant or Union Station or going south towards Franconia-Springfield to extend.

“The provision of free travel tickets for these zones in October will continue AER’s increased role in mitigating the impact of the Metrorail shutdown,” the report reads.

According to the report, revenue from passenger fares ranged from $1.1 million to $1.2 million in April and May this year.

“We do not expect significant growth in ridership from this level over the summer months, but September ridership is expected to increase as staff return to the office,” the report said. “If the average daily ridership increased to 10,000 trips per day, the expected monthly fare revenue would also increase to approximately $2.3 million.”

The lost fare revenue, the report said, would range between $1.2 million and $2.3 million — not counting the impact of the Metrorail shutdown.

“AER’s existing federal pandemic relief funds will provide a backstop to replace this lost revenue,” the report said. The expected impact of the proposed free tariffs in September and October specifically for zones 2/3 on AER is more modest. Current ridership to/from/between Zones 2 and 3 is relatively low at just 400 journeys per day, with most of these ridership on the
Backlick Road station. Of course, if a significant portion of the passengers affected by the Metrorail shutdown switch to VRE, that number could increase significantly.”

According to the report, the AER will apply for a grant from the Department of Railways and Public Transport to cover lost funds for providing toll-free transport in Alexandria.

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