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Posts from the "Metrolink" Category

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Your Metrolink “System-Wide” Weekend Pass May Not work on Metro. Here Is What to Do.

One of the best transportation bargains on offer in Southern California is the Metrolink’s Weekend Day Pass. The agency, offers a ticket on Saturdays and Sundays that allows the holder to ride anywhere on Metrolink’s service, albeit reduced from weekday offerings, for just $10.

It’s so popular that beginning two weeks ago, Metrolink began to run out of the special stock it is issues tickets on, stranding customers connecting to the Red and Purple Lines at Union Station at turnstiles that do not open. Metro does not have any staff present down in the Subway’s fare mezzanine to assist.

Metrolink Ticket without TAP RFID Chip

Click on the image to see if full sized.

Like all Metrolink tickets and passes, this one also includes a free transfer to “most connecting transit.” In the past year, as what I refer to as “Metro’s Turnstile Fetish” finally came to a climax. Dates were set for gate latching. Rather than ripping out and returning the turnstiles which had sat in free-spin mode for close to four years, a solution was found to allow Metrolink passengers to retain their long-held right to freely transfer, and be able to open the “latched” turnstiles now found at all the Subway (Red/Purple Line) stations.

This came in the form of a Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) chip, compatible with Metro’s TAP fare system, which was imbedded in each Metrolink ticket that had as its destination Los Angeles County.

But, with recent changes to their fare structure, Metrolink has begun to run out of ticket stock with the embedded chip and persons buying Weekend Passes. This has led to Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) dispensing tickets that do not have the ability to open the turnstiles at any of the Subway stations, even though those TVMs do not ask which county the purchaser intends to travel to when the Weekend Day Pass is purchased.

Because there is no guidance on either Metrolink’s or Metro’s websites on this matter, and my e-mails to Metrolink’s Director of Public Affairs were not returned, if you get one of these tickets, as shown above, you will need to speak to Metrolink Customer Service Personnel at Union Station who will assist you with obtaining fare media that can open the turnstiles.

This may take a bit of time, for in my experience, these individuals roam the platforms and the station tunnels and are not necessarily in one spot at all times. And the Metrolink Customer Service Windows located at both ends of the station have not been open on weekends. Read more…

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TAP final solution in sight!

We are on the last lap approaching the end of my long exertions as self-appointed chief TAP (Transit Access Pass) watchdog for our region, my friends. This long troubled program has finally unequivocally turned the corner and is fast approaching victory lane. Kudos and plaudits from all quarters are raining down on David Sutton who laist recently dubbed “the guy at Metro in charge of TAP operations.” Sutton built on the yeomen effort mounted by Matt Raymond (until recently Metro’s Chief Communications Officer) who first was handed the unenviable task of fixing TAP after the TAPucrats who labored ten years and spent millions in creating TAP mishandled it in such egregious fashion that one feels as if Raymond was one day handed a broom and told to tidy up the mess left behind by the elephant herd that TAP had become. We now have an actual date for the gate latching that feels real (June 2013) AND promised expansion that will fulfill the long promised potential of the technology (from 9 agencies to 24) in the next 12 months. Who’d have thunk it?

This all of course thanks to the last piece of the puzzle recently falling into place with a solution being found for the vexing problem of how to give Metrolink riders the ability to get through locked Red/Purple Line station gates.

The report being presented at the Metro Board Executive Management Committee meeting today is mostly full of administrative tidying up about staffing and consultants but does have some juicy details worthy of excerpting:

In response to the Board adopted motion to latch Metro Rail station gates, Metro has developed a plan to begin latching in June 2013. In order to meet this deadline, preparation must be done before June 2013 to ensure that access to rail stations for all existing customers is maintained. Closed Caption Television (CCTV) cameras and telephones located by the gates are being installed. Patrons requiring assistance will be able to utilize these telephones to gain assistance from personnel located at the Rail Operations Control (ROC) through a live voice connection. ROC personnel must be trained to address all the different patron issues (i.e. gating and TAP card issues) . Gate Latching tests are currently underway, with testing of the Wilshire/Normandie, Wilshire/Western, and North Hollywood stations already completed. The results of these station tests show that the CCTV cameras and telephones have been successful in assisting customers through the gates.

TAP is expanding to include fifteen (15) additional transit operators in the next twelve months. These include: Metrolink, Torrance, Long Beach, Santa Monica, Burbank, Redondo Beach, La Mirada, County of Los Angeles, LAWA, Monterey Park, Glendale, Santa Fe Springs, Palos Verdes, Pasadena, and Whittier. TAP is nearly tripling in size, expanding from nine (9) operators to twenty-four (24) operators, to include TAP equipment in over 500 more buses throughout the region bringing us closer to providing a truly universal fare system for our customers.

Good news isn’t as exciting as bad news but as a rider I am happy that we have at last arrived at the long promised (but often hard to believe it would ever happen) happy ending!

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Editorial: What Is It with Metrolink?

(I want to be explicit this is solely my own opinion, and in no way endorsed by either Streetsblog or Southern California Transit Advocates - DG)

UGH! You’ve likely seen the news reports that a shakeup has occurred at Metrolink with the Chief Financial Officer resigning in the wake of a scathing review of Metrolink’s financial condition.

To quote Yogi Berra, it is deja-vu all over again. This circle the wagons, fall on your sword, find someone ANYONE to blame EXCEPT the Board of Directors for the latest crisis is a recurring theme with Metrolink, which I have long noted is plagued with an insular culture.

In the late 1990s Metrolink’s first CEO Richard Stanger resigned amid what the LA Times describes as “… an audit criticized agency leaders for the way they handled contracts, billings, employee relations and planning.” Sound familiar? Stanger fell on his sword, things were hushed up as to who really was to blame, the Board ducked any questioning of its falling flat in undertaking its fiduciary duty for oversight and instead of launching a search for a new CEO they handed the job PDQ to Stangers’s #2 David Solow. Yee ho, away we go!

Read more…

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OCTA Metrolink Service Expansion Program Status

Starting in the 1990s OCTA worked on a light rail project that was to be known as CenterLine. Despite valiant advocacy by Orange County rail activists the project was buffeted by parochial NIMBYism resulting in multiple truncations of the proposed route. Finally, in 2005 the agency threw in the towel and cancelled the project. As a substitute to provide air quality improvements that the light rail was supposed to produce (and for which air confirmity was being relied on) OCTA undertook an expansion of intracounty Metrolink service, funded with the monies in Measure M that had been intended for CenterLine.

This was a very ambitious capital project to increase the coast rail corridor’s capacity that also involved the purchase of new railcars. But by the time the work was done conditions had altered as the economic downturn resulted in a 40 percent drop in anticipated sales tax revenue; operating costs has also risen as noted in a staff report on the program presented at the Nov. 26, 2012 OCTA Board meeting.

The OCTA Board in April 2011 approved a scaled down plan for six additional weekday trips between Fullerton and the Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo (LN/MV) Metrolink stations. They also introduced the OCLink pass good on Metrolink trains or OCTA buses within Orange County. One clever piece of marketing was scheduling service to serve home games of the Anaheim sports teams — the hockey Ducks and baseball Angels. Then in July 2012 an added peak period Inland Empire-Orange County roundtrip supplied the means to augment the late morning and mid-day intracounty service.

Unfortunately the resulting ridership has been rather dismal — 28 passengers per train! Although trains serving Angels games did significantly better — 246 passengers per train. A survey has found riders desire more frequent service, especially to adjacent Los Angeles and San Diego counties plus better transit connections at Orange County Metrolink stations.

Besides retaining special events service the staff report notes: Read more…

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TAP Solution for Metrolink 2.0

My last Metro Transit Access Pass (TAP) related post detailed the vexing situation regarding TAP and Metrolink’s patrons and the ongoing inability of Metro and Metrolink to find a means for Metrolink riders to be able to pass through the Red and Purple Line station gates after they are locked. I couldn’t hide my incredulity that after all these years of dancing around this situation the solution being proposed involved temporary paper TAP cards being distributed by hand to Metrolink patrons daily for three months after which temporary plastic 30-day TAP cards would be provided by Metro for distribution to Metrolink’s riders who purchase a monthly pass.

As my follow-up post noted, this well intentioned but rather cumbersome solution was rejected by Metrolink’s Board which informed its staff that efforts should instead be made to find a more permanent solution and a request be made to Metro that it delay the locking of the gates until that more permanent solution can be found. Scott Johnson, Assistant Public Affairs Officer at Metrolink, stated the situation at that point stood as constituting “an ongoing collaboration” between the two agencies. Also that “No definitive timetable has been established” And “… The issue will continue to be discussed through internal meetings, alongside public committee and board meetings”.

Thursday at the Metro Board Executive Management Committee meeting the new solutions will be debated.

I guess one solace is with either of the options being considered the Los Angeles County municipal carriers will still honor Metrolink fare media for transfer, which would include the LADOT DASH buses that ply the streets of downtown Los Angeles and which many Metrolink riders already avail themselves of (and maybe even many more will hereafter if they have to face in the alternative paying an extra charge to ride the subway). Read more…

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Updates on Surfliner, FlyAway and Metrolink/TAP

Temporary Solutions for Metrolink’s TAP Issue Shelved

The ongoing saga of Metrolink & TAP is apparently not going to end anytime soon. At the Oct. 12th meeting of the Metrolink Board of Directors, the Board decided to not adopt the proposed solution to the connectivity issues between Metrolink and Metro trains caused by the “locking” of the fare gates. The rejected plan involved paper TAP cards being distributed daily by hand to Metrolink patrons to allow them access to gated Red and Purple Line stations starting January 1. Starting in March,  Metrolink would have supplied monthly pass purchasers with a temporary plastic 30-day TAP card each month.

More on everyone's favorite topic: TAP! Photo:The Source

The Board requested efforts be made to find a more permanent solution and requested that Metro delay the locking of the gates if need be until a more permanent solution can be found.. Scott Johnson, Assistant Public Affairs Officer at Metrolink, characterizes the situation thusly:

This is an ongoing collaboration between the two agencies and their respective boards. No definitive timetable has been established. The issue will continue to be discussed through internal meetings, alongside public committee and board meetings.

Status Update on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner transition to local management

At its meeting on Oct. 15th, the Board of the Los Angeles – San Diego – San Luis Obispo Rail Corridor Agency (LOSSAN) adopted a new amended timetable for selecting a managing agency for the Surfliner. The new schedule is markedly less hectic than their original plans, and aimed at commencing early next year:

Overall, member agencies are asked to schedule consideration [of the amended Joint Powers Agreement and bylaws] by their individual governing boards between October 2012 and January 2013, at which time the LOSSAN Board would consider releasing the RFP, with a due date for proposals in early March and potential selection [of a managing agency] by the Board at their April meeting. SANDAG will continue to provide administrative support during this time. The start date of the negotiation period, July 1, 2013, does not change

Considering LOSSAN has nine member agencies, the process of having the amended JPA agreement and bylaws approved by the various governing boards indeed will likely take until early next year.

Metro and the Orange County Transit Authority are thus far the two agencies that have signaled they will be vying to be selected as the managing agency (which will provide office space, administrative support, etc. to the managing director who will be selected by the LOSSAN Board to handle day to day management of the Surfliner along with staff the Director will hire).

The FlyAway Read more…

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The latest Metrolink TAP solution

When you look over the list of 90 some posts I have contributed to this blog over the past few years, certain recurrent topics become apparent like the Wilshire bus lanes and the statewide bullet train project. Recently I have been quite involved in covering the effort by local agencies to assume management of the Pacific Surfliner intercity rail route.

And then, of course, there is Metro’s Transit Access Pass (TAP) and the associated rail station gating. I have written a lot about this, and in the process it has almost become an ongoing saga filled with triumphs and less than stellar moments. One ongoing motif has been the question of how Metrolink users would be given access to the Metro Rail system when the gates are locked. We have had some false starts over time as rumored solutions somehow faded into the murk, followed by periods of incoherence and regression.

Now we have the latest solution due to be presented to the Metrolink Board at its meeting on Friday.

Here are the highlights of the situation and solution:

The gates located at Los Angeles Union Station (LAUS) are scheduled to be the last gates locked towards the end of the first quarter of next calendar year, 2013.

Metrolink staff worked very closely with Metro to identify an alternative ticketing technology solution that would enable Metrolink customers to transfer through the TAP activated gates. During this process, concerns arose regarding the durability of the chip-embedded paper solution for monthly pass holders.

Due to not having a permanent solution in place by December 2012, the following short term temporary option will be implemented:

1) Metro will provide Metrolink with temporary paper TAP cards for Metrolink riders who purchase one-way, roundtrip, seven-day and weekend fares at ticket vending machines. Cards will be distributed by hand to patrons daily until March 2013.

2) Metro will provide Metrolink with temporary plastic 30-day TAP cards for distribution to Metrolink’s riders who purchase a monthly pass. Cards will be distributed through Metrolink’s Corporate Pass Program, by hand at predetermined locations, on-line, and through US Mail.

The current Metrolink EZ transit pass paper ticket option that Metrolink customers currently use will no longer be usable through locked gates. The EZ transit pass paper ticket will continue to be visually inspected and accepted on Metro and Muni busses.

Of Metrolink’s 40,000 plus average weekday boarding’s, 68% are monthly pass holders (including corporate quick card users), 32% are one-way, round-trips and 7-day pass holders. Out of the 40,000 plus weekday boardings approximately 64% travel through Los Angeles Union Station.

My jaw dropped when reading that temporary paper TAP cards will be distributed by hand to Metrolink patrons daily until March 2013. And then every month thereafter for the foreseeable future temporary TAP cards will need to be provided to Metrolink monthly pass purchasers. 10+ years of TAP development and millions spent by Metro yet in the end these low tech/cumbersome solutions for our regional rail patrons are what the dire circumstances dictate? The mind reels. All this is estimated to cost Metrolink $639,000 (of which existing grant funding will cover $528,000).

3 alternatives are mentioned:

  • The Board could recommend that alternative solutions be evaluated
  • The Board could request a special meeting with Metro to delay the locking of the gates until a permanent solution is developed and proven
  • The Board could reject the above mentioned transfer solution and require passengers to purchase separate tickets to ride Metro

Given the timeline and Metro’s unrelenting zeal to close the gates ASAP I bet the stopgap solution will be accepted. Words fail me.

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Shakeup at Metrolink Board: Najarian Out. Ridley-Thomas In?

Antonovich, Palmdale's Mayor, Metro CEO Art Leahy and Najarian pose with a check. Photo: The Source

One of the powers of the Chair of the Metro Board of Directors, is the right to appoint three members to the Board of the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, commonly known as Metrolink.  Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who took over as Metro Board Chair on July 1, wasted no time in exercising that power, replacing Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian with Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

The move has surprised and baffled local rail watchers, not the least of which is Najarian.  The Glendale City Councilman responded to the switch with shock, pleading with the Supervisor to change his mind through a formal letter and later criticizing the decision at a meeting of the Glendale City Council.

“If you’re wondering how many miles of Metrolink rail is in Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ district, that number is zero,” Najarian testified.

Najarian served on the Metrolink Board for six years and was one of two practicing lawyers on the Board during a time of legal crisis.  He was appointed by the following Metro Board Chairs: Supervisor Gloria Molina, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Santa Monica Mayor Pam O’Connor, Villaraigosa (again), Supervisor Knabe and Villaraigosa (a third time.)  He also served as Metro Board Chair in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, where he automatically sat on the Metrolink Board.

Staff for both Antonovich and Ridley-Thomas defended the decision.

A spokesman for the Metro Board Chair told Streetsblog that Antonovich was most interested in filling his appointments to the Metrolink Board with people who share his vision for regional rail.  The spokesman outlined a vision where one could take rail to every major airport in the area and where a regional rail network didn’t just connect the major population centers in and near the City of Los Angeles, but the entire county.  According to the spokesman, Antonovich was simply more comfortable with Ridley-Thomas than with Najarian. Read more…

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What High Speed Rail Funding Bill Means for Southern California in the Next Decade

(High Speed Rail is a hot topic on the Streetsblogs.  For more check out CA Senate Approves Funds for High-Speed Rail, Commuter Rail Upgrades at Streetsblog San Francisco, A Victory for CA High Speed Rail but Still a Long Fight Ahead by  ”Streetsblog.net” director Angie Schmitt)

Last week, the State Senate and Assembly passed legislation that approved the sale of $4.7 billion in state bonds to begin construction of the California High Speed Rail project that will one day provide high speed travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles.  The $4.7 billion will fund 130 miles of high speed rail service between Bakersfield and Merced in the Central Valley and “local improvements” surrounding Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The "blended route" calls for full High Speed Rail route through Palmdale all the way to Los Angeles. While the funding for that gets worked out, there will be full high speed rail between Bakersfiled and Merced, with the L.A. area seeing modest, but needed improvements between Palmdale, Union Station and Anaheim. Double tracking for Amtrak and Union Pacific rail lines are also in the works.

Most press accounts of California’s High Speed Rail victory last week spends a paragraph, maybe two, saying something along the lines of, “The bill provides $2.1 billion to upgrade the Metrolink and Amtrak systems in Southern California and electrify Caltrain in Northern California.”

While it’s nice to hear that Metrolink’s aging infrastructure is going to receive a boost, at this point the $950 million isn’t yet dedicated to specific projects.  For example, we know that the project will provide for upgrades to Palmdale Station, which could potentially be a HUB for Metrolink trains, Amtrak, and both the California High Speed Rail project and Desert XPress.  Pending how Metrolink grows, it could also provide rail access to both the Palmdale and Burbank airports.  At this point, it would be very difficult to make an acurate prediction on how the $950 million would be spent.

To create a specific plan for those funds, a team of staff for many Southland transportation agencies (page 2-7) signed a Memorandum of Understanding and agreed to create a project list that will be completed by 2020, the same year that High Speed Rail in the Central Valley will come online.  The agencies on the task force are the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), Southern California Regional Rail Authority (aka Metrolink), Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (aka Metro), San Diego Association of Governments, Riverside County Transportation Commission, San Bernardino Association of Governments (SANBAG) and the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

This isn’t to say that the Senators and Assembly Members that voted last week had no idea what the project list for the region would include.  SCAG announced details of the MOU earlier this year, which was a key point in gaining the support of politicians and leaders in the San Gabriel Valley.  The plan included major upgrades to Palmdale and Anaheim’s Metrolink/Amtrak stations to handle high speed trains in the distant future and increased local service in the near-term.  On the rails, money could be used to “double track” Union Pacific Rail Lines in Industry, West Covina, Irwindale and Alhambra.

For Metrolink rail, a series of crossings will be grade-separated, better safety features will be put in place, and the oldest of the current tracks will be modernized.  At this point, there is no discussion of electrifying the Metrolink rail tracks in local plans, so for the forseeable future, passengers on the official High Speed Rail train would be transferring at Palmdale to signifigantly improved local service to Los Angeles and Anaheim or faster Amtrak service to San Diego. Read more…

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Box: Metrolink Passes Bike Friendly Test

Getting to ride in Metrolink's new bike cars was a surprise bonus for the Box's weekend adventures on the rails. Photo: Stephen M. Box

(This is the first in a three-part series from Stephen Box.  In the coming weeks he’ll be discussing the bike (and passenger) friendliness of Metro Rail and Amtrak. – DN)

When I embark on a #BikeTrain adventure, I typically put my train-boarding theory to work by heading for the front car. I believe that this car is underutilized by train passengers, most of whom gather in the middle of the platform resulting in the middle cars filling first. I pick the front car over the back car because it’s easier to anticipate the position of the front of the train while the variable length makes the rear car an unpredictable target.

This past weekend, Enci and I took our bikes to LA’s Union Station to ride the Metrolink, not so much because of the new Bike Cars, but because of the $10 Weekend Passes. These passes allow passengers to ride from Friday evening to Sunday evening, anywhere on the system, for $10.

We rolled through the station, an experience that is always a bit awe-inspiring, and headed to the platform to wait for our train. We took position on the platform so that we were lined up to board the first car but somehow we seemed to attract a herd of passengers with all sorts of luggage and prams.  It was such a crowd that we knew boarding would be a nightmare and finding space for our bikes would be a competition.

We gave up our usual spot and headed to the other end of the platform and took up position at the end of the empty and locked Metrolink Train when we realized that we were standing outside one of Metrolink’s Bike Cars.

In the course of the weekend, we rode the Metrolink all three days, on the old cars that have room for two bikes per car, on the new cars that have room for three bikes per car, and on the Bike Car which has room for 18 bikes.

The Bike Car is a retrofitted “old car” that consists of stripping the car of all seats (save the jump seats and the rear three) and finstalling two portable frames that create three spaces on each side allowing bikes to lean parallel to the wall. There are three bungies (short, medium, and long) for attaching the bike’s top tube to the rail along the wall. The emergency escape area (~4’x 3’) is roped off and once the bikes are secured, there is seating for about 8-10 people.

When we first realized that we were standing outside one of the new Bike Cars, I used my iPhone to take some pictures but the light was bad so I used another camera with a flash. There is a sign on the side of the Bike Car, about 7’ off the ground, but it has little impact because of its location. We only noticed the Bike Car because we were standing next to it and looking in the window. From farther down the platform, there is little hope of noticing the sign and passengers standing on the platform awaiting an arriving train have little hope of jockeying to chase the Bike Car based on recognizing the sign as it goes by.

As for the photographs, I was snapping away at the Bike Car, the sign, the interior through the windows, etc. when I realized there were two LA Sheriffs coming from the utility end of the platform, the off-limits area. I braced myself and, sure enough, they approached me.

“Here, let me open the Bike Car for you!” one of them said. I was so stoked as they opened one of the two doors for me that I didn’t complain when I had to squeeze through the single side with a loaded bike. I wanted to ask them to open both doors so we could board easily but I was still stunned by their hospitality, especially because I had been prepared for a challenge of my late night photography in a train station.

As it turns out, opening both doors wouldn’t haven’t made the boarding any easier.  The open doorway has a pole in the middle, from top to bottom, and loaded bikes have to be “fed” through the opening, making it impossible to simply lift it up and climb the steps onto the train. The Sheriffs were kind enough to assist me and they “fed” our loaded bikes to me as I stood on the Bike Car.

Overall, the Metrolink’s Bike Car is a great ride, the only downside being the pole in the doorway, an obstacle now just as it was an obstacle on the old cars.

There are ramps that can be used to facilitate faster loading and unloading but with only one conductor per train, the demands on his/her time may not allow for the use of the portable ramps that fold in half lengthway and are stored against the inside wall by the doorway.

Overall, the Bike Car is great, not just for its practical application, but for the loud message it sends, “Cyclists are valued guests on the Metrolink!” My only suggestion: get rid of the doorway pole. Read more…

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