The Amtrak Downeaster is considering its first fare hike in five years. Although ridership has rebounded since pre-pandemic levels, officials say operating expenses have risen 20%. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

For the first time in five years, Amtrak’s Downeaster has pitched a plan to raise certain fares by $2 to $10, depending on destinations, accommodations and special offers.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority proposed the increases in response to inflation and rising costs that have driven up Downeaster’s operating expenses 20% in that period.

At the same time, ridership growth has resumed since the pandemic, with marked gains through the summer months, said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the authority.

Under the proposed fare plan, certain one-way coach Value fares would increase $2 to $6; the maximum premium paid for Business Class seating would increase from $10 to $12; and the cost of certain Multi-Ride Passes would increase as much as $10, including monthly, 10-ride and six-ticket college passes.

“We haven’t increased fares since 2018, and our costs have gone up significantly since then,” Quinn said. “Meanwhile, ridership is rebounding. We just had three record-breaking months in a row.”

The authority’s board will take public comment and vote on the proposed fare increases at its Oct. 23 meeting. Some comments have been submitted in writing in advance.


“We’ll review the comments so we can make the best decisions possible to keep the service sustainable, strong and meeting the needs of the public,” said Jim Cohen, authority board chair.

The new fares would go into effect on or about Nov. 1. Some fares would remain unchanged.

Digging into recent passenger data, Quinn said 57,876 people rode Downeaster in July – topping 57,512 riders in July 2018 – and 61,769 people rode the train in August, exceeding 60,944 riders in August 2019, which had been Downeaster’s highest ridership month ever.

Preliminary reports indicate that September ridership topped the previous record of 50,016 passengers in September 2017, she said.

The Greater Portland Council of Governments, which supports various regional transportation initiatives, welcomed news of Downeaster’s rebounding ridership as an important factor in reducing greenhouse emissions and combating climate change.

“Our region’s public transit system and services provide critical transportation options for residents and visitors,” said Chris Chop, the council’s transportation director.


“The success of the Downeaster is also good news for the region’s economy,” Chop said. “The service strengthens our region’s connection to Boston’s vibrant economy and can serve as a catalyst for great neighborhoods near stations.”

The council declined to comment on the proposed fare increases without conducting a thorough review of the authority’s revenues and expenses.

Despite ridership growth, Downeaster’s operating costs have increased as they have for every other business, including labor, fuel, insurance, utilities and supplies.

“Ridership is clearly back,” Quinn said. “Now, with these proposed fare increases, we’re trying to mitigate the need for taxpayer dollars to offset our costs.”

The authority strives to finance 50% of Downeaster’s operating costs through fares – a ratio it hasn’t achieved in five years, according to the fare plan.

In 2018, Downeaster’s annual ridership hit 547,000 and revenue reached $10.2 million, up 85% since 2005, the fare plan states. Before the pandemic hit in early 2020, ridership was expected to exceed 600,0000 with revenue above $12 million that year.


In fiscal 2023, which ended June 30, Downeaster’s annual ridership had rebounded to 516,734, or about 90% of pre-pandemic levels, bringing in $10.4 million in annual revenue.

The proposed fare increases were developed with three goals in mind: to collect the maximum revenue that the market will bear, to sustain the largest ridership possible, and to provide equitable and socially responsible public transit.

“This fare plan seeks to balance these three objectives with a pricing program that reflects regulatory constraints, market expectations and fairness to customers, while also supporting the operations of the Downeaster service,” the plan states.

Under the proposed fare plan, a one-way coach Value ticket from Saco to Freeport would increase from $6 to $8; one-way from Boston to Portland would increase from $29 to $34, and the cost of a college six-ticket pass, good for six one-way trips between any two Downeaster stops, would increase from $86 to $96.

Downeaster will continue to offer various discounts, including 10% for military members, 15% for students, 30% for those traveling for medical care, and 50% for children, people with disabilities and passengers 65 and older.

In the first two months of fiscal 2024, 90% of passengers purchased regular adult tickets, while 10% purchased senior tickets and 6% were children ages 2-12, according to Downeaster’s latest performance report.

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