- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 20, 2000

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The Virginia Railway Express (VRE) made a baleful announcement recently that, beginning next month, it will discontinue beverage and snack service in its cafe cars, converting these oasis of civility over to passenger-carrying duties instead.

This is an interesting development in that it will create a Catch-22 for VRE the very same Catch-22 that has plagued most other forms of public transportation: growth in usage leads to a decline in user-friendliness. The trains (or buses) become crowded, hot (or cold), filled with various aromas and packed-together bodies. Simply put, the end of VRE cafe cars means that VRE will become much less pleasant for riders who may tire of the lack of service and grow to abjure the increasingly crowded trains.

VRE ridership is expanding rapidly, to nearly 10,000 people per day on its two lines, which run from Manassas, Va. and Fredericksburg. VRE is expecting more to come when a federal transit subsidy goes into effect Oct. 1.

Nixing the cafe cars will open up another 225 much-needed seats, according to VRE spokesman Matt Benka. Mr. Benka says that VRE is looking at ways of possibly maintaining some kind of beverage service to retain the pleasant quality that the trains are about to lose.

"Success is often painful," Fairfax County Supervisor T. Dana Kaufman told The Washington Post. "It's difficult to lose the cafe cars. But if the situation is between that amenity and having people sit in your lap, well, hey …"

Perhaps. But if VRE becomes a rolling cattle car how many people will elect to endure it? At least in their cars, they have some elbow room, can fiddle with the radio and enjoy a cup of coffee, if they like.

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