Activism Success: Metrolink Riders Convince Board to Put Off Fare Hikes

I owe an apology to any Streetsblog readers that ride Metrolink.  While I was obsessing about bicycle and pedestrian access to the Gold Line, the Metrolink Board of Directors voted to delay a decision on a 6% fare hike.  After receiving thousands of complaints on the proposed hike, which would have been the agency’s second in six months, to try and figure out how to make the cuts needed to maintain the current fare structure.  Congratulations, Metrolink riders.  You spoke out and the agency heard you.

Metrolink, which is the most expensive transit ride in the county, has bucked the trend of growing ridership in large part due to its high fares.  In its article about the Board’s decision, the Times notes:

Ridership and ticket revenue on the five-county rail system have
tumbled about 15% from last year because of job losses across the
region and lower gas prices that enticed commuters back into their
cars. Ridership is now below levels of four years ago, officials said.
Ticket revenue is forecast to be $7.7 million below what had been
expected in the current year’s budget.

The agency also has increased expenses for safety improvements after
last year’s head-on wreck between Metrolink and Union Pacific trains
that killed 25 and injured dozens more in Chatsworth.

Some early ideas that were floated at the meeting were renegotiating deals with contractors and trimming parts of the agency’s budget.  The Daily News, showing its supply side, argued that the agency should consider cutting fares and it would increase revenues by bringing back former riders priced out of the service.

Streetsblog may be a couple of days late to the story, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help.  Leave your suggestions for the Metrolink Board to hold off a fare hike, and I’ll make sure they get in the right hands.

  • Mahatma

    It’s the most expensive fare-wise, but it’s also the most highly subsidized service in the area….by far.

    Why keep pouring money into it?

  • Spokker

    If fares are not raised I fear there will be service cuts. While Metrolink does commuter rush hour rail service pretty well, it hurts regional connectivity if we cut the sparse midday and weekend trains we do have.

    Which hurts more? Service cuts or fare hikes? Who knows.

  • Today the Daily News suggested that Metrolink LOWER fares (http://www.dailynews.com/opinions/ci_13789704) to make the commuter rail a bargain and attract riders. Sounds like a good idea in theory, but it seems to me transit funding is like a box of Catch-22’s inside a larger box of Catch-22’s.

  • I wish communities and politicians in the east San Gabriel Valley, the north San Fernando Valley, and in Orange County would get more excited about double tracking Metrolink.

    In London, if you have a zone pass, you ride on any form of transit, including commuter rail, within the zones you paid for.

    It won’t happen, but it would be great if there could be an intra-county pass that includes travel of Metrolink. If we had double tracking, we could have intra county short run trains as well.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been on Metrolink trains, on the Burbank Airport line, arriving at Union Station late on a weekday morning, with fewer than 10 passengers. Though it was personally convenient for me, I have to wonder if there might be better uses of public funds than to operate every trip on Metrolink’s current schedule.

    Certainly, a few mid-day trips can be justified–if commuters believe they have no way to get home if they should need to do so unexpectedly, they’re more likely to drive–but perhaps their frequency can be decreased.

    Similarly, weekend service on the Orange County line could be better coordinated; I’d rather not have Metrolink duplicating service between Los Angeles and Oceanside that is already offered by Amtrak, especially when the connections to the south on NCTD’s Coaster are timed to be impossible. (If New Jersey Transit and SEPTA can do through schedules and ticketing on the New York (Penn)-Trenton-Philadelphia route, why can’t Metrolink and NCTD make it work here?)

    I understand there are lots of political issues to work out before any consolidation could occur, but does it really make sense to have three separate, publicly-subsidized passenger rail operators in southern California, each with their own set of overhead expenses?

  • And Amtrak will be running Metrolink trains soon, lol.

  • Some folks won’t like this, but lots of the midday, evening, and weekend service needs to be replaced by charter buses. Incidentally, costs are cheaper and it allows Metrolink to provide later service. This is similar to what Altamont Commuter Express does in lieu of running lightly patronized trains in the evening hour, or the Vallejo ferry. Rather than the last Metrolink leaving at 9 p.m., space the trains around a little (say, leaving at 5:40, 6:30, and 8:00 instead of 5:40, 6:00, 7:00, 8:00, and 9:00) and run a late bus at 9:00, 10:00, and 11:00. Yes it will take a little longer but it is dedicated service for Metrolink riders at Metrolink fares (with charter bus-level seats and comfort), making stops directly at Metrolink stations.

  • Metrolink trains look empty sometimes but it can be deceptive. I would ride weekend trains on the OC Line and think I was one of ten people on the train, but once everybody gets off at Union Station the platform is very crowded from people getting off the train. I’m thinking, “Where the hell did these people come from?”

    Everybody complains about trains being half full but cars are often only a quarter full (1 driver, 3 empty passenger seats) and they clog up streets and highways. Looks like a lot of wasted capacity to me.

  • DJB

    There needs to be more dense development, both residential and office, around Metrolink stations. I’ve seen a couple projects going up along the San Bernardino line. The problem as usual is fragmented land use authority and local NIMBYism.

    Downtown San Bernardino could start by redeveloping that Carousel Mall parking lot, which seems to be far too large and acts as a barrier between the San Bernardino Metrolink station and Downtown San Bernardino. Put up a parking garage and a dense, mixed-use development.

    It’ll have to wait for a better economy or a more progressive stimulus though.

  • There is no shortage of riders on any of the trains I ride on the Orange County line. I usually purchase a Metrolink monthly pass to get between where I live in Koreatown and my school, UC Irvine. This lets me ride Amtrak trains in addition to Metrolink trains, along with being a Metro pass. This pass has enabled me to live carfree while commuting about 40 miles each way, since it is also quite easy to get a bike on the trains and I ride from the station to my campus. I agree that Metrolink could do a lot more in terms of ensuring connectivity, and advertising to local hubs that might send more commuters their way. Would a fare increase lead to my buying a car? Probably not, but from what I overhear on the train and what I know from talking to other commuters, I’m one of the few carfree people who rides. Any fare increases will probably send the car owners back to the freeways.

  • Once the Purple Line gets extended and the Regional Connector goes online I imagine Metrolink ridership will dramatically rise as there are places to connect to when you get to Union Station.

    It will be interesting to watch the Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor extension project. Because of the Crenshaw project, it will no doubt be light rail hopefully offering a one-seat ride from downtown to LAX. It would be interesting to see if there could be a heavy rail connection there too so that Metrolink can run to LAX. I’m not sure it is wide enough for both heavy and light rail, but I imagine that will be studied.

  • I wrote on my blog a while ago that what Metrolink needs out here in Inlandia is something similar to what Dan proposed- let holders of local bus passes ride for free within the territory of their bus pass. (I don’t think this could be properly applied to Metro- their territory covers a LOT of Metrolink routes, and it would just cannibalize fare revenue.) The trains don’t run empty, but they have a lot of excess capacity until they fill to the gills in eastern LA county (Pomona, Industry, Covina) or the northern O.C. (Anaheim, Orange).

    It’d be a benefit for Metrolink, because seats that were empty get filled, possibly attracting subsidies and no doubt getting paid by local transit agencies for the privilege, it’d benefit local transit riders by providing quick intra-regional service (which is pretty much nonexistent on the bus system out here- getting around along the I-10 corridor from Ontario to San Bernardino is ridiculous on the bus, but well-served by Metrolink), and it would encourage our transit operators to connect their services to Metrolink better than they currently do.

    Original post:
    http://ridinginriverside.blogspot.com/2009/08/on-bus-passes-and-empty-trains.html

  • I also wanted to mention that calwatch’s suggestion is a good one. Many commuter rail systems do this- not only ACE, but West Coast Express in Vancouver, and GO Transit in Toronto. It allows for a substantially denser network, with improved off-peak service and late-night runs… I would LOVE to see Metrolink run late at night, even if it’s a bus.

  • mattlos

    DJB — SANBAG and Omni are hard at work on extending the Metrolink SBL to serve to the future San Bernardino Transit Center near the Carousel Mall

    http://www.pe.com/localnews/sbcounty/stories/PE_News_Local_S_sanbag04.3dde5b3.html

  • DJB

    Haha, guess I need to learn more about what’s going on out there. I’m glad to hear about Bus Rapid Transit in the Inland Empire. Kudos on the name too: SBX. That sounds pretty edgy.