Metrolink Moves Forward with Some Service Cuts

The Southern California Transit Advocate’s Ken Ruben reports from today’s Metrolink Board meeting that the agency is moving forward with some of the proposed service cuts that the agency first proposed in the fall of 2009.  As you may remember, debate raged and eventually the Board asked staff to look at other options, which of course included a rate hike.  The Metrolink Board voted for these cuts instead of a fare hike.

Via Dana Gabbard:

Ken Ruben attended the Metrolink Board meeting today and informs me the
weekend reductions to the Orange County and IEOC services plus
eliminating mid-day IEOC weekday service (items 3A and 3B) was approved
along with an accounting move regarding employees (item 5). The changes
will take place in early Feb., date not specified.

http://metrolinktrains.com/documents/Board_Agenda/010810_Board_Agenda_rev2.pdf (see p.25, the 34th page of the packet)

(An earlier version of this post implied that fare increases were still on the way.  Ruben reports below that there will be no fare hikes in the current fiscal year.)

  • The headline should read “One More Reason to Drive in LA”. When are we going to see “service cuts” on freeways? Lane closures would save us a lot of costs in maintenance, yet we seem to be able only to add to freeways and never subtract.

  • Ken Ruben

    I am now away from the Board and Committee meetings and I should also mention in addition to what Dana reported from me in a very brief conversation, there will be no fare increase in this fiscal year.

    The cuts proposed are on the Inland Empire and Orange County Lines mainly week-end service and elimination of 2 week day off-peak trains on the IEOC, trains 852 and 853.

    On the IEOC, there will be 1 round-trip each Saturday and Sunday.

    After reductions in Orange County week-end service sometime in early February, there will be 4 trains on the Orange County Line left each Saturday and Sunday.

  • Shrug. Guess I’ll be driving to work on the weekends now.

  • ubrayj02 makes a good point. Ive never heard of a freeway lane being shut down to save on costs. Or how about closing the highway every night from 12-5am for maintenance reasons? Our road system has excess capacity at night, why not move everyone to local roads?

  • This is a real shame.

    I take a tiny amount of comfort in knowing that once connecting services from the Regional Connector is built, the Purple Line is extended west and the Harbor Subdivision light rail is built, to say nothing of High Speed Rail, there will be increasing demand for travel to Union Station from the suburbs.

    It is really sad for commuters in the meantime.

  • First off, closing down a freeway actually costs more money than leaving them open. You have to close every onramp with K-rail or similar strong barriers and have police cars at every onramp. Otherwise, the roadway would be a perfect location for “Fast and Furious” type drag racing, which of course would result in somebody getting killed and suing Caltrans. It’s much more expensive than when bicyclists complain when the Flood Control District shuts down the bike trails along the flood control channels, because there they just use a padlock on an existing fence.

    The biggest cost in transit is operations, primarily labor. For buses, you can contract out service to dozens of contractors, which is much easier to keep track because of GPS and crowd sourcing. With the economy in the dumper it should be no problem to get people able to drive buses for $10 an hour. Many people would be willing to get paid minimum wage for driver training and $12-15 an hour to drive the bus. For Metrolink, qualified rail operators require months of training and are hard to find. Connex refused to operate service any further, so Metrolink must start transitioning to Amtrak, and Amtrak has Metrolink by the short hairs.

    I still support cutting service, though, and refocusing Metrolink on the peak hour service, with supplemental charter bus service during evenings and weekends to provide basic regional mobility for much less than the cost of running a train.

  • Calwatch, though I realize this is a thread-jacking and (of course) “out there” in official transportation policy circles, how expensive would it be to stamp a bunch of rubber bollards on a freeway (a la the end of the 90 freeway in Marina Del Rey or the end of the 2 freeway in Echo Park) to close off lanes?

    The savings in maintenance, and the reduction in cars on the road, would more than make up for the thousands of bollards, tar balls, and contractor time spent installing this stuff. With the reduction in maintenance costs for just one lane on a freeway could save a whole lot of cash in the long run – perhaps just enough to keep (or increase) transit funding.

    I wonder why the BRU and other transit folks (whose interests get screwed by the zero sum gain arguments that take from transit) haven’t advocated this sort of thing.

  • In reality, though, maintenance costs for the roads are not that much, because of the fourth power law. In other words, the damage caused by a particular load is equal to the fourth power of the weight on each axle (http://pavementinteractive.org/index.php?title=ESAL). Therefore, when a bus or truck hammers the roadway, that’s causing 3,000 times more damage than an ordinary car, and 2,000 times more damage than even a Ford Expedition.

    In this state, trucks are limited to the right two lanes on four lane freeways, and the right lane on freeways of three lanes or less, anyway. This is why most of the repaving work happens on the right lanes.

    The only way you could do this safely is to use the “express lanes” concept in Seattle, where you have reversible lanes. For example, a freeway might be converted from 4 lanes in each direction to a 3-2-3 pattern, with the reversible lanes closed at night (which is what is done in Seattle, BTW). The benefit of reversible lanes is increased capacity during peak hours, and an easier way to implement congestion pricing (by tolling the express lanes). The disadvantage is that you would have to lay tons of K-rail and build everything up to standard, or risk a dangerous conditions lawsuit the minute someone gets hurt or killed.

    Incidentally, if you start closing lanes for no good reason overnight, you will get a dangerous conditions lawsuit on your hands. As long as the lawyer can take it to jury trial, the costs of defending the lawsuit start running into big $$ quickly. This is one reason why LADOT, and all engineering organizations, are so gunshy over changing existing conditions. The fact that the City Attorney was incompetent, settling things like the Tennie Pierce dog food incident for $2.1 million, doesn’t help.

  • Hmmm, a “dangerous conditions” lawsuit, eh? Perhaps we need the threat of lawsuits of another sort to move things in transit’s direction.

    For example, road capacity is directly correlated with traffic volumes, and traffic causes air pollution, air pollution causes respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

    So road capacity causes illness, and that can be the basis of a suit against road designers that favor high traffic volumes over air quality.

    Anyway, I’ll drop this. I do think that it is reasonable for us to talk about reducing car capacity on roads as a means of reducing the maintenance costs of our transportation system. We do it with every other mode except cars – with the crisis we’re in, now is the time to strike.

  • Erik G.

    Still, I’d like to see LA Metro cut the Freeway Patrol Services. Why should LA Metro pay for a service that really ought to be covered by the driver’s Auto Club (or other like entity) membership? What is the true cost of owning an automobile, and should it not require membership in an organization that will assist you during a breakdown? LA Metro tow trucks can’t clear anything but broken down cars and SUV’s so why do we put them out there when a large percentage of the road use is by trucks?

    Also, why do we have Sweeper Trains? They only tie up traffic and surely the roads will clear themselves either through wind-effect of vehicles or rainfall. What is the cost of this service and is it truly paid for by the user fee gas tax?

    The Highway Patrol and the fire/rescue services performed by the adjoining municipalities: What are their costs and what compensation does Caltrans repay to the cities/counties for the use of their fire departments and ambulances? Is this paid for by the user fee gas tax?

    I hope that as a part of the pain of all these cuts, a bit of accounting is done and some of the fuzzy math that has been accepted as “okay” gets clarified so we know what things cost.

    P.S. I really advocate that the CicLAvia folks push to get a freeway or two closed on weekends for a bike and walking path for the event. For example do we need both the 60 and the 10 open on weekends east of L.A.?

  • Erik G.,

    Regarding closing freeways, which has occurred in the recent past with the 110 freeway/Arroyo Parkway, there are two thing that prevent it from happening today:

    (1) CalTrans and the CHP will make you pay, dearly, to close a freeway. Organizers are required to pay for the cops blocking every exit and onramp to the freeway. This cost multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars fo the organizers of the event on the Arroyo Parkway.

    (2) Closing a freeway does not clearly demonstrate the benefits of reduced access to cars, and increased access for other modes. Surface streets are better places for a no-car festival as they exist right in the middle of the urban fabric, and allow people to see the direct economic, cultural, and health benefits of having more space given over to human activity that does not involve multi-ton steel carts with motors.

    I think your point about closign the freeways on the weekends is valid – perhaps only commercial traffic should be allowed on the weekends. Though these larger vehicles destroy the road faster (on a per vehicle basis), there are fewer of them than there are private autos that make up the bulk of the traffic on freeways.

    I said I would drop it, but I guess I can’t. If service cuts are being proposed for transit in a time when people are turning away from cars, transit and active transport advocates ought to start pushing for “service cuts” to the private automobile network to save on maintenance costs and the expense of the MTA’s freeway patrol, emergency services, CalTrans highway cleaners, etc.

  • The risk if you do go for cutting back existing auto amenities (as opposed to new roadways) is that John Moorlach and his ilk will retaliate by eliminating transit service in their areas and replacing them with “private sector transit”, i.e. bandit cabs and hitchhiking, and John and Ken, supported by the construction and housing industry, will then put an initiative on the ballot to redirect all Measure R money into freeway expansion and elimination of carpool lanes, and have it show up on a primary election ballot so that their constituency turns out. (The Measure R people weren’t stupid in making November 2008, where there would be more young people turning out as a result of the historic election, when they pushed their tax increase.)

    As for Freeway Service Patrol and the call boxes, it is paid for completely by car tax fees. Look up the Service Authority for Freeway Emergencies (SAFE), which incidentally also pays for 511 implementation, which will be used by transit riders to get real time information as well as drivers to get traffic reports. SAFE has a pilot program to put tow trucks on the 710 freeway that can handle trucks. Street sweeping is required by law under the terms of a MS-4 permit with the Regional Water Quality Control Board. If you don’t sweep the streets regularly, the fine for polluting the ocean is worse. The highway patrol, cops responding to accidents, etc. don’t pay for themselves. The Federal Government’s own data (search for FHWA Table SF-1 and LGF-1 and note the amounts that come out of the general fund, at least in this state) show that CA roads are largely not paid out of the gas tax.

  • The risk if you do go for cutting back existing auto amenities (as opposed to new roadways) is that John Moorlach and his ilk will retaliate by eliminating transit service in their areas and replacing them with “private sector transit”, i.e. bandit cabs and hitchhiking, and John and Ken, supported by the construction and housing industry, will then put an initiative on the ballot to redirect all Measure R money into freeway expansion and elimination of carpool lanes, and have it show up on a primary election ballot so that their constituency turns out. (The Measure R people weren’t stupid in making November 2008, where there would be more young people turning out as a result of the historic election, when they pushed their tax increase.)

    As for Freeway Service Patrol and the call boxes, it is paid for completely by car tax fees. Look up the Service Authority for Freeway Emergencies (SAFE), which incidentally also pays for 511 implementation, which will be used by transit riders to get real time information as well as drivers to get traffic reports. SAFE has a pilot program to put tow trucks on the 710 freeway that can handle trucks. Street sweeping is required by law under the terms of a MS-4 permit with the Regional Water Quality Control Board. If you don’t sweep the streets regularly, the fine for polluting the ocean is worse. The highway patrol, cops responding to accidents, etc. don’t pay for themselves. The Federal Government’s own data (search for FHWA Table SF-1 and LGF-1) show billions of dollars in roads coming from the General Fund. Anyone that denies this can’t do math. But, does that mean cutting off all of these services, instead of increasing the gas tax and vehicle license fee to fairly cover these costs? I would prefer the latter.

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