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The Region

Rail Line Seeks Fare Hike

Metrolink plans a 4% increase effective July 1 to keep up with rising costs. The agency may also reorganize the way it calculates prices.

March 30, 2004|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

To keep up with costs, Metrolink is seeking to raise fares by 4%, starting July 1. The commuter rail agency also wants to restructure its pricing system to better reflect the precise distances that riders travel.

Metrolink, which runs commuter trains through Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties, has not raised fares since a 5% increase in 2002.

Since then, fuel prices as well as operational expenses have gone up, agency officials said.

The proposed changes require approval by the Metrolink Board of Directors, and a vote is scheduled April 23.

"We're going to need the funding just to maintain the current level of service," said Rancho Cucamonga Mayor Bill Alexander, chairman of the board, who supports both measures. "We anticipate somewhat of a temporary diminishment in ridership, but we expect that to go back up."

Riders were told of the possible price hike Monday through fliers on train seats. Fares currently range from $4.25 to $10.75 for a one-way ticket during peak commuting hours, and $90.75 to $309 for a monthly pass.

"No one is happy about a raise in fare prices, but when it's a service you enjoy ... with the cost of living and other things, there has to be increases once in a while," said Shelley Hirmand, a legal secretary who rides from Simi Valley to downtown Los Angeles.

Her $163.50 monthly pass would go to $170, but considering the cost and aggravation of freeway driving, she said, "Metrolink is still a good deal."

In January, Metrolink had 36,400 riders on an average weekday. On some days this month, ridership crested 39,000, compared with 35,000 a year ago.

Some lines have grown so popular in recent months that passengers have had to stand or sit on the floor.

Metrolink is trying to buy more cars, but the process can take two to three years because the vehicles have to be specially ordered and there are few manufacturers.

Agency officials are negotiating with Sound Transit in Seattle to lease some of its fleet's excess cars, which would be immediately available.

"There has been so much overcrowding," said Francine Oschin, an alternate Metrolink director for Los Angeles County. "We have a terrible shortage of rolling rail cars."

The new fare structure, which would be phased in over 10 years beginning in 2005, would eliminate Metrolink's zone-based pricing system.

Currently, it is possible for riders traveling the same distance to pay different fares.

For instance, a 36-mile one-way trip from Simi Valley to downtown L.A. passes through three zones and costs $6.25 during peak hours, while the same-distance trip from Tustin passes through four zones and costs $7.25.

"There are benefits to making the fares more equitable," said Bart Reed, executive director of the Transit Coalition, a rider advocacy group. "It's the same as if you get into your car and pay for how far you drive."

Because of varying distances between stations, the new system could generate up to 2,862 different fares.

Metrolink spokeswoman Sharon Gavin said ticket machines would automatically round off fares to the nearest quarter.

To obtain feedback, Metrolink is hosting public meetings throughout the region. Locations and dates may be found at www.Metrolinktrains.com.

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