Norton Group Thinks CVSR is a Grinch

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad has taken a page from the Amtrak playbook or so it must seem to some members of the Norton City School’s Foundation.

As recounted in Bob Dyer’s column last Sunday in the Akron Beacon Journal, the group will not be selling Polar Express tickets this year as a fundraising effort to raise money for college scholarships awarded to graduating seniors.

For several years, the CVSR has offered early Polar Express ticket sales to non-profit organizations such as the Norton group at a slight discount from what the same seat would cost when sold to the public.

The groups were allowed to purchase all of the tickets in a passenger car. The Norton group, though, took it a step further by re-selling those tickets for $5 per ticket above the price it paid.

The Norton group’s gripe is that the price of the tickets has sharply risen over the years.

The newspaper reported that in 2011, a car cost $2,850, or about $36 per seat. Five years later, that price had grown to $3,600, or $45 per seat, an increase of 26.3 percent.

Last year it was $3,760, or $47 per seat but this year the CVSR charged $4,560, or $57 per seat.

CVSR President Joe Mazur acknowledged to the Beacon Journal that he was hesitant to approve the increased fares for non-profit groups for fear of a backlash. But he said the Norton group was the only one that complained.

Mazur also noted that the condition of sale prohibits re-selling the tickets, something he said hasn’t been strictly enforced. The railroad is aware that multiple groups have resold their tickets.

As Mazur sees it, non-profit groups already benefit by having access to Polar Express tickets before the public and CVSR members do.

“We don’t have enough tickets left over after charters and [CVSR] members [buy tickets] for the general public,” he said. “So what we were trying to do is mainly get more tickets available for the general public.”

Mazur said charter groups should pay more because they are getting preferential treatment in ticket availability.

For many years most Polar Express trips have sold out shortly after tickets went on sale to the public.

More than 40,000 ride the Polar Express trains during the month that it operates during the Christmas season.

The Norton group has purchased three cars on a Polar Express train in recent years. Last year it raised $1,200 for scholarships.

Linda Kloetzer of the Norton group said her organization decided it didn’t want to charge people more than $60 per ticket. That would cost a family of four at least $240 for a two-hour train ride.

The Polar Express is oriented toward children and features Santa Claus, elves, a reading from the book of the same name, and cookies and hot chocolate. The children also receive a silver bell as a gift and view a holiday lights display at the “north pole,” a.k.a. the Peninsula CVSR station.

Dyer’s column did not say how the Norton group will be raising money for scholarships this year. But Mazur could identify with the need for fundraising to meet expenses.

“We’re a 501(c)3,” he said. “We’re the nonprofit. We’re the one trying to raise money so we can keep a historic train running. This year I’m going to spend a million dollars just in renovations for the cars.”

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