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Funding Disagreement May Derail Midday Metrolink Run

May 06, 1993|PHIL SNEIDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Midday Metrolink trains between downtown Los Angeles and Moorpark may be discontinued this summer because Ventura County is reluctant to pay $200,000 a year for the early afternoon run that now carries only about 40 riders a day.

The midday trip is in jeopardy because the Ventura County Transportation Commission is involved in a funding disagreement with the four other counties that are partners in the Metrolink system, said Richard Stanger, executive director of the Southern California Regional Rail Authority.

Specifically, Metrolink administrators propose that Ventura County increase its payment for the midday trains from $15,000 to $200,000, thereby picking up what administrators say is the county's full share of fixed costs.

"I don't know where Ventura County would come up with that kind of money," said Simi Valley Councilman Bill Davis, a member of the Transportation Commission and the regional rail board.

He added: "It's no different from our household budget. You can only spend what you have. You can't put it on a credit card every month."

But Stanger said it is a matter of Ventura County paying its fair share.

"If Ventura County decides it can't afford a train, then the cost to the other four counties rises," Stanger said. "Under the present agreement and budget, we won't be able to run the midday service."

At its meeting Friday, the Transportation Commission is scheduled to debate the high cost of the midday Metrolink run.

Commission staff members have urged the panel to pay only about $50,000 for one midday round trip each weekday between Los Angeles and Moorpark during the fiscal year that begins July 1.

That is on top of the $750,000 the commission has agreed to pay next year for four early morning and late-afternoon Metrolink trains between Moorpark and Los Angeles.

The midday run was launched to give riders a chance to get home early if they only needed to spend the morning in Los Angeles. It also allows commuters to go home early if they take ill or have a family emergency, Metrolink officials said.

In addition, passengers have an option to go into Los Angeles for a few hours in the afternoon.

Although the ridership has been low, Stanger said the midday run and a proposed late train--which would leave Los Angeles about 8 p.m.--are important because extended operating hours will attract more commuters.

"More people would take the train if they knew there was a way to get back at midday and/or late in the evening," he said. "It's sort of an escape that makes the peak periods more attractive."

The midday train, which was launched Feb. 22, leaves Union Station at 1:05 p.m. and arrives at Simi Valley at 2 p.m. The train begins its return trip to Los Angeles at 2:50 p.m.

Ventura County transportation leaders said early ridership figures on the midday run--about 40 passengers per day--have been disappointing. They expect some improvement when the midday train run is extended to Moorpark beginning May 17.

By contrast, about 950 people board the four morning rush-hour trains each day. A similar number make the return trip during the evening rush.

From its start-up in February until June 30, Ventura County agreed to pay only $15,000 for the midday train service.

Ventura County officials were surprised to learn that Metrolink's draft 1993-94 budget calls for Ventura County to pay about $200,000 as its share of the cost of the midday run.

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