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Train Service Plans on Track

Ventura County: Metrolink commuter line to be expanded despite a drop in ridership last year.


Transportation officials are moving forward with plans to expand commuter rail service along the Ventura County line despite a one-year dip in ridership.

Construction is expected to begin next month on a $5.7-million station in the Montalvo area of Ventura, where empty trains are stored overnight but no passenger service exists. In June, work is scheduled to start on an $8-million expansion of the existing Camarillo station, which officials hope will evolve into a transportation hub for commuters and students attending Cal State Channel Islands when it opens this fall.

The projects, financed with state and federal dollars allocated to the Ventura County Transportation Commission, come as Metrolink prepares to spend $200,000 on a survey to determine why ridership has not increased as hoped on its rail lines throughout the six-county Southern California area.

Metrolink and the Southern California Assn. of Governments will hire private firms to conduct the one-year study, which will involve a random poll--by phone and mail--of about 26,800 households throughout the region.

Residents will be asked about their travel habits, including their choice of transportation, whether they ride or have ever ridden Metrolink, and why former riders stopped using the commuter trains.

"This information will help us be able to hopefully target our services better," Metrolink spokeswoman Sharon Gavin said.

The decision to conduct the study, expected to be finished by spring 2003, was made last year after Metrolink learned that ridership was decreasing.

Since Metrolink service began, ridership along the Ventura County line steadily increased from 22,781 passengers in 1993 to a peak of 45,202 in 2000. But in 2001, the number of commuters dipped to 41,329. And last month, 221 fewer passengers rode weekday trains along the line--which stretches from Oxnard to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles--than did during December 2000, Gavin said.

Metrolink hopes to attract riders by making more trains available. Earlier this month, the rail service added a northbound stop (about 10 a.m.) in Simi Valley and Moorpark and a 10th southbound train that stops in those cities after 11 a.m., before continuing to Los Angeles.

Previously, commuters in Moorpark and Simi Valley had to wait more than six hours between the last morning southbound train (about 8:30 a.m.) and the first southbound train in the afternoon.

"The more trains we have out there, the more people we can attract to use the service beyond the regular commuters that you would expect," said Mary Travis, manager of rail programs for the Ventura County Transportation Commission.

"People just doing day trips--or half-day trips to Glendale, the Burbank area or as far as Los Angeles--we want to encourage them to use the trains too."

John Brand, senior management analyst for Moorpark, agrees. Before the schedule was expanded, Brand said he received many calls from commuters requesting a midday train to Los Angeles to get to doctor appointments, as well as to Burbank Airport.

"People lead really busy lives with work and families, businesses and appointments," Brand said. "On the days when there isn't an alternative train to take, people shift their mode of transportation from the train to the car, or carpool."

Transportation advocates say more service is needed to coax people out of their cars.

"Extra capacity, even if it's not needed today, will definitely be needed in the not-so-distant future, given the population growth that our region is going to continue to experience over the next 10 to 20 years," Southern California Assn. of Governments spokesman Jeff Lustgarten said. The station in Montalvo is expected to open by fall. It will be Metrolink's northernmost stop along the Ventura County line. It will include a platform, ticket machines and 60 parking spaces. The Camarillo station expansion, scheduled to be finished by fall 2004, will double to 600 the number of parking spaces for commuters and students at nearby Cal State Channel Islands.

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