Unlimited Train Travel Passes SOLD OUT??

VIA Rail’s popular Canada 150 Youth Pass was temporarily unavailable for almost 20 hours before being back up again. And then it is listed as sold out??


Check out the slew of tweets below. System gets suspended at 8:46 on March 29, 2017.

VIA Rail Youth Pass (1)

Less than 8 hours, curiously during regular business hours, they reactivate the system. Lots of important decisions were obviously made during these hours. Now I see that this was a softer way of relaunching the system.

VIA Rail Youth Pass (2)

Just over 4 hours later, they still the real beans. The decision they made while the system was suspended was to cap the number of passes being sold.

VIA Rail Youth Pass (3)

Just over 3 hours later, all 1,867 passes have been sold out. Are you kidding me?

VIA Rail Youth Pass (4)

When I first saw the system being suspended, I strongly suspected that they would go back on their deal. Let me ask this question, how many passes was VIA Rail planning to sell in the first place? When VIA Rail signed off at 8:03pm, which is just before they announced that there was going to be a limit, it was reported that they only sold 986 passes.

VIA Rail Youth Pass (5)

Does that mean that they were anticipating to sell less than 1,000 to begin with? Selling only 1,000 passes would only give them $150 x 1,000 = $150,000. I was hoping that they would actually target more like 10,000 sales, for a revenue of $1,500,000 to work with.

The first issue they will run into is availability on the train. If you can only book Escape fares with the pass, there will be very limited seating on the train. So today, I am going to propose some solutions to VIA Rail.

What VIA Rail can do about overcrowding

Release more seat availability closer to the travel date

First of all, I hope that VIA Rail is going to ensure that they fill every seat. I hope that as we get closer to the travel date, if there are unsold seats (i.e. non-Escape fares), they should release more Escape fare seats for people with Passes to reserve. That would only be fair. I would be very disappointed if I saw a lot of empty seats, knowing that people with the Passes were not able to book a seat that specific train.

Add more wagons

The LRC Coach car has a capacity of 68 seats, which is where all the Escape fare passengers will sit. That means that if every single person with the Pass decided to be on the extra same train, at the exact same time, they will need just over 28 wagons (1,867 / 68).

In reality, I suspect that the maximum number of passengers with passes that will be on the same train at the same time will be 5%, which is 93 passengers. That is less than 2 wagons worth. So worse case scenario, they would need to tack on 1 extra wagon. However, with only an extra $150,000 to work with, I’m not sure how likely this suggestion is going to work.

Release more months

It would have been nice if VIA Rail would have opened up another 1,867 for the month of June and another 1,867 for the month of August. However, if they only sell 1,867 Passes each month, that is only an additional $280,050 (1,867 x $150) in revenue, which is probably not enough to justify the additional costs. Not to mention what was already spent on marketing and “fixing” the glitch on the system while the passes were suspended from being sold. We can also expect that more staff on hand in the month of July. I’m not sure where they will find the money to add more wagons.

This deal really was too good to be true. Unfortunately, the numbers prove it.

What Passengers can do

It is such a shame that VIA Rail had to cap this deal. It was such a great offer.

Book your trip well in advance

I strongly suspect that VIA Rail’s customer agents are going to be getting a lot of complaints about lack of availability to book with the pass on Escape fares. I hope that VIA Rail will take my suggestions (release more Escape fare seats or add more wagons) listed above, but at least do your part and book your trip early to avoid this issue.

Buy food on the train

I used to buy the pasta salad for $5 on my train trips. I felt that it was an amazing deal; however it does not seem like it is available anymore.

If you are going to be on the train for that long (across the country!), considering that you are getting a good deal with this pass, help support VIA Rail by buying food on the train. Some items may feel overpriced, so I wouldn’t go crazy with the menu, but there are some decent options for part of the journey.

What I would like to see if that VIA Rail follow Air Canada’s lead by offering VIA Rail points for purchasing food on the train.

Go Mobile or Use Kiosk

It would really help the long lineups at the train stations if you keep your ticket on your mobile or print it at the self-serve kiosks. I would recommend avoiding using the service agents during the month of July.

Print Early

If you absolutely want to use the service agent, I would recommending printing your ticket ahead of time. Back in the day, without mobile, if I happen to pass by the train station, I would actually go in to print my ticket a few days or even weeks before my trip, so that I would not have to stress out on the day of my trip.

Message to VIA Rail

It is too bad that you so poorly executed this plan. You really underestimated the market demand for such an amazing Pass. Please give yourself more credit that you do offer an amazing service. The challenge you continually have is high prices (outside of the Escape fare rates and Tuesday Discounts). But if you do lower the prices, people will jump on board in a heartbeat, as you can see!

A balance will need to be made on whether high volume will make up the profit needed to run the trains. Personally, I would do a more precision calculation on volume. Travelling by train is a greener option, so why not lower the prices just enough to consistently fill them up?

How do you feel about all that has transpired? Please share in the comment section below!


  1. Amazing blog post. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Although I am 26 this was really something I wanted to see my little sister take advantage of. I had my suspicions and told her to book ASAP but apparently she wasn’t quick enough. 🙁

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