Riders give VRE highest marks in a decade

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Photo - A VRE train (Examiner file photo)
A VRE train (Examiner file photo)
Local,Virginia,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Virginia Railway Express riders have ranked the quality of the commuter train service at the highest level in a decade as trains arrive on schedule more often.

The annual customer service survey shows that 84 percent of the 6,300 riders who took the poll gave top ratings for service quality, up from last year's 78 percent and higher than any year since 2002.

Riders also ranked every metric higher than last year except for two: the quality of the online newsletter and the price. The survey showed a slight decline from 63 percent to 61 percent in how riders rated the value of the service. The riders were polled on May 9, before a 3 percent fare increase took effect on July 1 but after it had been approved.

Who rides VRE
63 percent are male
70 percent work for government/military
51 percent have been riding for less than four years
73 percent earn $100,000-plus per household
84 percent own their homes
83 percent own two or more cars
69 percent are white, while 15 percent are African-American
Source: VRE 2012 Customer Service Survey

The survey results were good news for Keolis, the company that operates the trains for VRE. Last year, the overall crew performance ranked at 85 percent in Keolis' first year running the system, down two percentage points from how it ranked under the previous provider, Amtrak. But this year, riders ranked the crews' performance at 90 percent.

The commuter train service, now celebrating its 20th anniversary, also is posting better on-time performance than it has in years, despite Wednesday night's four-hour delays due to a suspicious bag near the tracks containing what was initially thought to be human remains.

The renewed timeliness has attracted record ridership, as it has become a more reliable way for commuters to get to their jobs.

But riders said they want more frequent trains and more seats on what have often become standing-room-only trains.

Still, 51 percent of those surveyed have been riding VRE for less than four years, meaning they did not experience its nadir for on-time performance in 2006, when only about half the trains arrived within five minutes of their scheduled times. Last month, 98 percent of the trains were considered on time.

Traffic on the region's roads was the top concern cited for switching to VRE, behind getting a new job or moving.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kytja Weir

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner