If Spotsylvania joins VRE, it could save Prince William $500,000/year. Gee, let’s turn around and give that money to Fauquier, Culpeper, and Warren counties…

Seventeen years after extending the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) to Fredericksburg back in 1992, 900 riders/day from Spotsylvania County are regularly using the commuter rail system.  However, Spotsylvania County doesn’t contribute a thin dime to support VRE operations.

According to the proposed Revisions to the Virginia Railway Express Master Agreement to Add Spotsylvania County, Prince William pays over $6 million every year to VRE to subsidize the commuter rail system.  That’s more than Fairfax, and over 100% more than Stafford.

Why?  Simple answer:  Prince William contributes so many more riders to the VRE commuter rail system. VRE is not funded only by the users; fares are heavily subsidized by taxpayers who never hop on a train.   Residents of Fauquier, Culpeper, and other counties who do not belong to the Potomac Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC) or Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) are getting a “free ride,” since those counties provide no subsidies to match the number of residents who use VRE.

If Spotsylvania County joins the VRE system, it will start contributing funds in 2012.  Spotsylvania will pay its full fair share starting in 2013, after expiration of the fee waiver used by existing VRE members to entice the county to join.  Existing VRE members offered Spottsylvania a sweet deal, postponing the costs, because joining the compact is a hot issue in the November 3 election for Spotsylvania Board of County Supervisors.

As a result, the annual subsidy required from Prince William will drop by about $500,000/year each year – if, after the election, Spotsylvania stays in the VRE system, imposes the $02.1/gallon gas tax, and uses that revenue to subsidize VRE costs based on the number of Spotsylvania residents who actually use VRE.

There’s a lesson learned here – if you extend VRE to the edge of a county, VRE will attract riders from that county and the VRE compact members will subsidize transportation services for those commuters.  According to the last VRE ridership survey, 244 Fauquier residents ride VRE every day, probably parking at Broad Run.  Imagine how that will grow, if we put an end-of-line station in Haymarket.

It’s clear that VRE is hellbent to extend service to Haymarket, where Fauquier, Culpeper, and Warren residents will be happy to get a subsidized ride into DC – but when did Prince William get so rich that it could carry the load for its neighbors?

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