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A Virginia Railway Express train heads south through Crystal City (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Virginia Railway Express is considering introducing Saturday service and making fares free for children.

The former would result in three round-trip trains on the lines connecting Arlington, from its Crystal City station, to Manassas and Fredericksburg. Service would head northbound in the morning and southbound in the afternoons and evenings.

Adding Saturday service is part of a bid to increase ridership on the rail by moving beyond mostly serving commuters from ex-urban counties headed to D.C.’s urban core. Average daily ridership has surpassed 6,000 and is ticking up but is far from the agency’s 2024 goal of 10,000 average daily riders. Still, looking from January 2022 to this January, VRE saw a whopping 114% growth, which Greater Greater Washington reports trumps all other commuter or regional rail systems.

“We’re moving into an all-week service for our trains,” County Board member Takis Karantonis said during a meeting last Tuesday. “Like every other major, mature metropolitan area, this kind of train service should be growing and graduating out of its mere commuter function into a real regional connector.”

Local transit advocacy group, Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County, or SusMo, also celebrates the changes for making the train more useful to Arlingtonians. County residents make up such a small fraction of riders that they are lumped in with Alexandrians and “other” riders in VRE ridership surveys, per the rail’s 2024 budget.

“This begins the process of making VRE useful for more than just commuting,” SusMo says on its website. “Arlingtonians could use VRE to safely and sustainably [take] a day-trip to Fredericksburg breweries, a flight lesson at Manassas Regional Airport, exploring historic Old Town Manassas, and more.”

VRE intends to add these routes without spending extra money by relying on smaller trains that need fewer conductors, Karantonis said. The new routes are included in the proposed budget for the 2024-25 fiscal year, which will see a total of $18.3 million in contributions from VRE’s supporting jurisdictions: Arlington, the cities of Alexandria, Manassas, Manassas Park and Fredericksburg, and Fairfax, Stafford, Spotsylvania and Prince William counties.

The proposed budget also includes a 5% increase to base fares and free rides for those under 18. Karantonis celebrated the free rides as “an opening to youth travel and families” while the fare hike could boost revenue by $1 million while possibly driving away 100 daily riders.

Multi-ride tickets will maintain the same discount structure and the current $5 fare for short-distance travel — between Union Station in D.C. and Springfield — would be made permanent. The seven-day pass, use of which plunged after the rise of remote work, would be eliminated, he said.

SusMo says these changes are much needed.

“We think this simplification is a positive step forward and VRE’s first fare increase in several years is appropriate given the cost inflation we have seen in recent years,” it said.

As for ridership, Karantonis acknowledged some Arlington bus routes ferry more than the 6,000 average daily riders VRE sees. He said the county “should really think very hard about how we can improve” the number of average daily riders. One way, he mused, could be by advertising its ease and affordability compared to driving on I-95.

“Congestion on I-95, the competing infrastructure, is completely impossible,” he said. “The cost of driving on I-95 is absolutely intimidating for a lot of people and it has been going up continuously over time.”

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Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street) is now lending gardening tools to Arlington residents, and all they need is a library card.

This morning, the library held a “vine cutting” to open the toolshed on its east plaza, next to its community garden. The shed, built from cedar for free by Case Design, will be open for lending from March through November on Wednesdays, 5:00-7:00 p.m., Fridays 3:00-5:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to noon. Borrowers must be residents of Arlington County and at least 18 years old.

“We want people to dig in and get their hands dirty,” Arlington Central Library Manager Margaret Brown said.

Brown was joined by Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette and Board member Libby Garvey at the toolshed’s unveiling. Brown said the library was inspired to develop the toolshed and its neighboring vegetable garden — with produce going to the Arlington Food Assistance Center — through Fisette’s sustainability initiative when he was Board chair in 2010. The plan and location for the shed was developed by the Urban Agriculture Task Force last year.

“I really think the library has done a great job of taking some of the big picture ideas the county has,” Fisette said, “and to find ways creatively… to further goals of the county and the [Urban Agriculture] Task Force.”

Fisette donated a shovel he was given from the groundbreaking of Virginia Hospital Center’s new wing in 2001. The other tools, available for borrowing immediately, are:

  • Bow rakes
  • Bow saw
  • Bulb planters
  • Dandelion puller
  • Four-tined soil turner
  • Flat blade shovel
  • Garden hose
  • Hand rakes
  • Hedge clippers
  • Hoes
  • Hook and ladder
  • Loppers
  • Long-handled shovel
  • Pick axes
  • Pitchforks
  • Post hole digger
  • Seed spreader
  • Trowel
  • Walk smoother
  • Wheelbarrow
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Arlington and other Northern Virginia locales have joined the list of areas where Amazon.com is offering its “Amazon Locker” self-serve delivery pickup service.

Two 7-Eleven stores in Arlington — 4223 Fairfax Drive in Ballston and 4970 Columbia Pike — have been outfitted with a bank of electronic, Amazon-branded lockers. Residents ordering from Amazon can opt to have their package delivered to the locker instead of to their house or apartment.

If you choose locker delivery, Amazon will email you a code once the package has been delivered to the locker. You then tap in the code at a touch screen display, and your locker will open. Just don’t procrastinate after getting the email — if your package isn’t picked up for three days, it will be sent back to Amazon and your money will be refunded.

In addition to Northern Virginia, Amazon Locker service is also available in Seattle, New York City, and London. The company is billing the service as “a new and easy way to receive your Amazon packages.”

Hat tip to Bill C.

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Your days of waiting in long lines to pick up and send packages at the post office could be over. Ballston Common Mall is one of the first commercial locations in the country to debut a new program from the United States Postal Service called gopost.

The service is designed to make sending and receiving packages easier, because they’re delivered just like regular mail. There’s no need to bring a slip to the post office and wait in line to receive the item. Postal carriers pick up and drop off items at the boxes just like a regular mail box. There’s no additional fee to use the service.

Users set up an account online and choose which location they’d like a package sent to. They’ll receive an email or text message that their package has arrived. At the gopost site, customers check in on a computer and receive their items from the designated post office box. If a signature is required, the customer simply signs the computer screen with a finger.

Users who want to send a package will print postage from their home computers, attach it to the package and drop the package off at a gopost site. The onsite computer informs the postal service that a package needs to be picked up.

USPS spokeswoman Laura Dvorak believes the program will be popular because it’s convenient.

“Why do you want to wait for your package, when your package can wait for you?” Dvorak said. “This way, you don’t waste your time.”

Several post offices throughout Northern Virginia, including the Arlington South Post Office (1210 S. Glebe Road), have installed gopost boxes. Ballston mall is the first non-post office site to feature the service. Dvorak says the location was chosen due to its proximity to many businesses and hotels in the area, as well as the mall being open to the public most hours of the day. It has 80 lockers of three different sizes.

“It’s a matter of convenience,” Dvorak said. “Customers would have access nearly around the clock.”

Customers will need to make one trip to a post office while setting up their registration. A USPS employee will validate the person’s identity and give more information about what items are allowed to be shipped. When the user logs in from a personal computer, the postal services knows who’s requesting shipping services.

“We know the account, we know who that person is,” Dvorak said. “It’s a very important security feature for gopost.”

The service kicked off at Ballston mall last week. It will be expanding throughout Northern Virginia this year. Future gopost locations include grocery stores, pharmacies, transportation hubs and other shopping centers.

Courtesy photo

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If you have dirty, smelly trash cans, and don’t want to clean them yourself, there’s a new service that will do it for you for a monthly fee.

Can-Scrubbers LLC recently started operating in Arlington, Falls Church and McLean. The company has a small, oddly-shaped blue truck that uses “high pressure hot water and highly effective degreasing cleaners” in an automated process to clean out filthy trash cans.

Can-Scrubbers says their process is “eco-friendly” since cleaning your own cans will likely “send contaminated waste material into the street and ultimately down storm drains and into our precious streams and rivers.” The company says it stores waste water in the truck, then filters it and sends it through the sanitary sewer. Also, the company says that its cleaning agents are biodegradable.

The service starts at $10 per month.

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