Hungry Via Rail travellers need to either pack their credit card or their own snack when travelling on most major routes.
Effective October 29, VIA Rail only accepts credit cards from Visa, MasterCard and American Express for its onboard services on trains in the Quebec City - Windsor corridor and some regional trains. It will also accept VIA Rail gift cards, but not cash or debit. Cash payment is still possible on some regional routes.
A VIA Rail media representative said eliminating cash would make its onboard transactions more efficient and allow employees to spend more time serving passengers. The new onboard payment solution would “optimize frontline operations all while streamlining our back-end food management systems," according to an email query response.
The system cannot accept debit card transactions because it relies on cellular network connection and “cellular coverage is inconsistent across VIA Rail’s network”. Credit card transactions can be completed while offline.
The change brings VIA Rail policies in line with air carriers such as Air Canada and WestJet. The former allows only the three major credit cards and pre-purchased Air Canada vouchers, while the latter allows the same credit cards as well as Diners Club and Discover.
The VIA Rail prepaid cards can only be purchased in stations before boarding trains from manned, open stations.
One common concern with prepaid cards is that they can result in trapped value, when the amount placed on the card exceeds the amount used. This could easily be done by any train traveller unfamiliar with VIA Rail food prices.