VIA Rail should release more $150 tickets

The news of VIA Rail’s cheap ticket sales hit the public like a freight train.

VIA Rail, Canada’s government-owned rail company, offered the deal of a lifetime to those between the ages of 12 and 25. For $150, young Canadians could pick up a Canada 150 Youth Pass, which granted unlimited travel to them for the entire month of July. No, that’s not a typo. Unlimited travel across the entire VIA Rail system, stretching from Vancouver to Halifax, for only $150. People were obviously on board and soon enough the race was on. People spent hours in front of their computers frantically refreshing the VIA Rail website and line-ups at stations sprang up across the country. But after only three days of sales, and severe website crashes and slowdowns, the passes are all sold out.

People were pissed, myself included. Not only because many had struggled for hours with the website but because VIA Rail had not made it clear that there was even a limit.

The company had initially planned to limit the number of passes to only 1,867 (I see what you did there), but public interest caused the company to sell more than 4,000. While it’s generous of VIA to have made the passes available in the first place and to have sold more than planned, it’s frustrating to the many who were shut out or waited for hours for nothing. As well, VIA Rail basically pitted millions of Canadians against each other in the race for only a few thousand passes.

With many feeling like they’ve been left stranded at the station, what should VIA Rail do now? For so many reasons, they should release more passes.

For one, the whole idea behind the Canada 150 Youth Pass was to get people excited about Canada and its 150th year. Instead, it’s resulted in nothing but frustration and disappointment for many. If VIA Rail wants to actually accomplish what it planned to do, the company should seriously consider releasing more.

With so many events happening across the country this coming summer, VIA Rail should think of releasing more passes as helping more young Canadians to explore and experience this vast country on its 150th year. Canada is a big place and releasing more passes would make many of the events or promotions put on by other organizations across the country only more accessible to more Canadians. Many of Canada’s beautiful national parks, which admission to is free because of Canada 150, as well as other events and places would become cheaper and easier to reach.

Let’s also remember that more passes means more tourism. Cities and provinces would only serve to benefit from more VIA Rail passes as the tourism would aid the local economies and provide tax revenue to the provincial or municipal governments.

Benefits aside, it is undeniable that these passes have cost the government a fair amount of money already and releasing more would not be cheap. While I understand this, it’s in the public interest to do so. Subsidizing a few thousand young Canadians, and a few thousand more (hopefully) to travel and enjoy Canada seems to me like a price worth paying, especially as a way to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. It’s not like this is happening every year. These passes have always been about celebrating so why not spend a little more to throw an even bigger party? With VIA’s plans having already gone off the rails a bit, the company should think about changing tracks and finally releasing more passes.


  1. Matt Gwozd you sound like a desperate wannabe. If you want the VIA Rail tickets so badly, why not make the effort to get them early? Now when you are without a pass, you complain loudly about this in an article. Why does everyone have to make personal sacrifices in order to please/accommodate you? Like WTF do you think you are?

  2. VIA doesn’t have enough spaces on their trains to sell more passes.

    There are a finite number of seats, and most of their cross-country trains already operate near capacity. It will be tough to even accommodate the 4000 current pass holders. This is also before taking into account the revenue lost by having students take seats that would normally be sold for much more to other customers.

    It’s a great initiative but unfortunately VIA would need to increase the physical number of seats (not gonna happen, that would mean spending millions on new passenger cars and locomotives) to offer more tickets. This will essentially be a cool marketing tactic that a few lucky people were able to take advantage of.

    1. I did not realize that when I wrote this article so thank you for pointing this out. While my argument for why they should realize more passses is a touch moot now, I think my points on the unfairness and frustration of the whole thing are still completely valid. Cheers!

    2. The government of Canada should co-sponsor this initiative with Via rail for later months, especially focused on those folks in the technology space. E.g. Software Engineers. As a Software engineer myself, there are many incentives to go abroad to work in other places like California, Australia, etc. that present very livable cities.

      As a young Canadian, I would feel very high feeling of nationalism if I could explore the inlets of the country, to discover the beauties and adventures that we have here. I’m quite sad that I wasn’t able to lock down a ticket, knowing that there are people that just purchased one to resell at a higher price on Kijiji or Craigslist.

      I WANT to explore the country, but due to a lack of transportation infrastructure (like Europe) I am very restricted due to cost. C’mon Canada, lets invest in the future, and reduce the brain drain! Show millennials that you don’t have to go to to another country to live excitement packed adventures.

      Few Ideas:
      1. Instead of Via Rail offering a ‘free for all’ for a month, they should have highly discounted routes that take you from West to East coast over a 2 – 4 week trips. They would be able to better predict seat capacity.
      2. Partner with AirBnb / local Bed and Breakfast businesses to offer passengers cheaper stays.
      3. This contest should have required an essay / blog post / video of some sort to remove the incentive for a scalper / reseller of tickets.
      4. Bring it back for August!

  3. I didn’t know there was only a limit of 1,867 tickets for sale. That is undeniably regrettable. We can only hope VIA will release more youth passes.

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