FULLERTON — Orange County's commuter rail passengers are seeing red over the transfer fee they must currently pay to use the new, Metro Rail Red Line subway in downtown Los Angeles.
Seeking relief, more than 360 passengers from the Orange County Transportation Authority's lone commuter train signed protest petitions on Monday and Tuesday.
"It's not the money so much as it is the inconvenience," Kurt Walker, a computer operator from Fullerton, said of the 25-cent transfer charge, which will rise to $1.10 on April 1. "We have to hurry around to the ticket machines, get out our money and buy the transfers during the rush hour, and that's a real headache."
The fees represent geographical discrimination, Walker said, because passengers from the Metrolink trains that feed into downtown Los Angeles from Ventura, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties don't have to pay for transfers to ride the Red Line, which opened in January.
Greg Davey, a spokesman for Los Angeles' Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said OCTA has not forged a deal for discounted fares like one established with Metrolink's other lines in San Bernardino, Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
"We can't go out to every transit provider in the region and offer free rides," he said. "It wouldn't be financially possible."
OCTA board member Dana W. Reed said OCTA staff members told him that such an agreement might be reached in about three or four weeks. "I think the passengers have a right to be upset," Reed said. "They already pay more per mile than any other passengers, and they get less service."
The petition notes that Orange County commuters can take so-called Dash commuter buses free of charge from Union Station in downtown Los Angeles to their final destinations and asks, "Why should the use of the Red Line be any different?"
The transportation system, the petition adds, "was built to serve commuters, not hinder them. . . . We respectfully request, therefore, that you do everything in your power to help us achieve our goal of making our commute as convenient and inexpensive as possible."
OCTA officials said they are trying to negotiate a solution with their Los Angeles counterparts that may call for OCTA to reimburse Metro Rail. Price has been the barrier so far, officials explained, with Metro Rail officials seeking a higher fee than OCTA is willing to pay.
Walker, 31, and other disgruntled passengers collected signatures on OCTA's commuter train by walking up and down the aisles. He said the petition was mailed Wednesday afternoon to several transit agencies, as well as Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman and Los Angeles mayoral candidate Richard Katz (D-Panorama City), and state Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Quentin L. Kopp (I-San Francisco).
In any event, the problem will automatically resolve itself later this year, when the OCTA train becomes part of the regional Metrolink commuter rail network. But Walker said passengers aren't willing to wait that long.
"We were the first commuter rail passengers. We helped start the system. We should be treated more fairly," he said.
The OCTA train, which inaugurated commuter rail service in Southern California nearly three years ago, makes one trip to L.A. each morning and a return trip to Orange County in the evening. It already utilizes Metrolink equipment and logos.