The number of fare-evaders caught on the Virginia Railway Express spiked in February even as the train service hopes to get the state to approve tougher penalties on repeat offenders.

VRE issued 130 citations in February to those who didn't have a proper ticket -- one of the highest amounts the train system has seen in recent history and a 40 percent increase from February 2012, a new report from the agency said.

"The conductors are being a little more diligent about checking it, and unfortunately, people aren't having the proper validated ticket," said VRE spokesman Mark Roeber.

Of the 130 citations, 72 were found guilty of not paying their fare. Thirty were able to prove they had paid for a monthly pass earlier, though they failed to bring proof on their train ride. Others were found not guilty in court or got their tickets dismissed.

The commuter rail service that brings riders to D.C. from as far as Manassas and Fredericksburg typically issues about 100 citations per month. It ramped up efforts to catch scofflaws in 2011 after Keolis took over operating the service from Amtrak, when the number of citations jumped from a handful per month to a handful per day.

VRE relies on conductors to check riders' tickets. They are supposed to check trains once in the morning and once in the evening, Roeber said.

"Most do that; not all of them do, otherwise people would certainly [buy valid tickets] more often out of fear that they knew they were going to have their ticket checked," Roeber said.

Roeber said a conductor may not check tickets because he's not being thorough or because the trains are too crowded.

The commuter train service relies on riders' fares to pay for about 50 percent of its costs.

Despite enforcement efforts, the train system does find repeat offenders, so VRE is planning to petition the state's General Assembly to increase the fines for frequent fare-evaders. A similar effort previously died in the General Assembly, Roeber said.

"The way some people see it, [the fine is] less than a monthly ticket, so I'm just going to roll the dice and try to get away with it," Roeber said.

The maximum fine for not having a proper ticket now is $150 plus court costs.

A monthly pass can cost as much as $294.10.