Will you pay $20 bucks more a month to ride Metrolink?

I wrote the following story after attending a Metrolink board meeting in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Many of the riders of these commuter trains (they whoosh by our office every day on the very popular San Bernardino-to-LA line) said in written public comments that they will find other ways to get to work, such as vanpools and carpools, even drive.
If you are a Metrolink rider, email me at steve.scauzillo@gmail.com and tell me what you think. Will you continue riding Metrolink trains after the increase takes effect July 1?

Here’s the story. Remember, it’s best to email me (steve.scauzillo@gmail.com) or tweet me at twitter.com/stevscaz #metrolink if you prefer. I’d like to see what riders think and maybe do a column.
Here’s my news story in case you missed it:

Metrolink riders will pay $20.25 more for a monthly pass, part of largest fare increase in history
By Steve Scauzillo, SGVN

Southern California rail commuters will pay an additional $20.25 for a monthly pass to ride Metrolink starting July 1.

The increase in the monthly pass – the most common method of payment used by its 40,000 daily passengers – was part of an overall 7 percent fare hike approved on a 9-1-1 vote by the Metrolink Board on Wednesday. Bob Bartlett, the alternate for county Supervisor Mike Antonovich, abstained.

It is the largest percentage increase in the commuter rail line’s 19-year history. And it’s the 11th time the board raised fares in the past 14 years, according to Metrolink records. The previous fare increase was 6 percent in 2010 and was the highest jump until Wednesday’s increase. The board did not raise fares in 2011.

Knabe, who voted no, preferred a 5 percent hike but did not get support. Bartlett said he didn’t know how Antonovich felt about the rate restructuring so he abstained. Personally, the one-time Monrovia mayor said he would have preferred the board adopt only a 5 percent hike. The board rejected a maximum 9 percent fare hike as suggested by staff for fear it would drive away too many riders.

The 7 percent fare hike will raise about $4.5 million, about one-third of the amount needed to close a $13 million deficit in a $194 million budget. The gap is due primarily to $4.2 million in additional labor costs, $1.2 million for passenger transfer costs and $4 million in higher diesel fuel costs, according to Metrolink. The other two-thirds – about $8.5 million – will be paid by Metrolink’s member agencies. They include: the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Orange County Transportation Authority, the Riverside County Transportation Commission, San Bernardino Associated Governments and the Ventura County Transportation Commission.

Board chairman Richard Katz could not rule out another fare hike next year if fuel costs keep rising. “That is hard to predict. We would keep it to a minimum,” he said after the meeting.

More than 90 percent of the 159 responders who commented through email and on the web were opposed to the rate hike, said Mark Waier, manager of marketing and sales.

“As a student, I am already paying higher tuition. So I am already suffering,” testified Jose Rodriguez, a student at Cal State Los Angeles. The San Bernardino Line stops in Pomona, Claremont, Covina, Baldwin Park, El Monte and Cal State L.A. before reaching Union Station in Los Angeles.

Rodriguez, who rides the line to and from school every weekday, asked for no increase. He and others testified that Metrolink should cut costs and find other ways to raise revenues, including selling coffee and wine on board the train and at station platforms.

Charlie McDaniel, who told the board her monthly pass will go from $320 to more than $340 to ride from Riverside to L.A., wanted to see Starbucks on train stations and bar cars on trains.

She said while costs increase, service decreases. “You can’t even get a seat from Union Station unless you arrive quite early,” she told the board.

Katz said ridership was up 8 percent this year and 8 percent last year, mostly from auto commuters who don’t want to pay higher gasoline prices.

Yet despite the increased ridership, and the addition of express trains and holiday trains, operating costs are way up, he said.

“Fare increases are the last thing we want to do. We don’t take this lightly,” he told the audience of about 75 people.

Some riders who commented by email said a steep increase will cause them to find a cheaper way to commute. “I’ve been paying about $270 per month for passes. However, I’m switching to a carpool next month. It’s cheaper, I’ll only be paying … a total of $244,” said one commenter.

Paul Wilson, a USC student from Burbank, told the board some increase was anticipated but not this much. “This fare increase is outstripping the cost of inflation,” he said.

But Bart Reed, executive director of the nonprofit The Transit Coalition, advocated in favor of the rate increase as long as train service is not downgraded in any way.

High gas prices, which averaged $4.16 to $4.22 a gallon on Memorial Day, necessitate a functioning commuter rail system. “Many Southern California drivers and mass transit users will rely on Metrolink to get them through what is projected to be a very tough summer for gas prices. Maintaining current service levels, as well as service additions such as express, weekend and holiday trains, will provide Southern California commuters more options to escape high gas prices,” Reed said.

626-962-8811 Ext. 2237

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About Steve Scauzillo

I love journalism. I've been working in journalism for 32 years. I love communicating and now, that includes writing about environment, transportation and the foothill/Puente Hills communities of Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights, Walnut and Diamond Bar. I write a couple of columns, one on fridays in Opinion and the other, The Green Way, in the main news section. Send me ideas for stories. Or comments. I was opinion page editor for 12 years so I enjoy a good opinion now and then.

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