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Riders may feel pinch of increasing costs at Metrolink

Passengers seeking to escape the escalating summer gas prices aboard the Metrolink may not find the welcome relief they are expecting as train fares will likely take a climb in the coming weeks.

Metrolink announced a proposal earlier this month to raise its ticket prices an estimated 5 to 9 percent by July 1, 2012. The train company is calling the move necessary in order to bridge a $13 million funding gap in its 2012-2013 fiscal budget. The company will hold a special meeting of its board of directors on Wednesday, May 30 to hear customer feedback on the proposed ticket spike. A series of public workshops will also take place beginning this Monday, May 21.

“Despite continued efficient management practices, our costs have increased mostly because of the rising cost of fuel and an increase in our operations contracts due to a sweeping nationwide labor negotiation settlement," said Metrolink CEO John Fenton in a news release. "A fare increase is a last resort to be able to maintain current service levels.”

Key factors contributing to the gap in funding include rising fuel costs, a multi-million-dollar increase in contracted vendor costs due to a nationwide labor agreement and $2.5 million for post-employment benefits that weren’t previously budgeted, according to Metrolink officials.

In addition to customers taking on part of the burden, Metrolink is also looking to its member agencies to help manage the financial strain by increasing their subsidies. The raised ticket prices alone will not be enough to fill the gap, according to Mr. Fenton, who estimates it would take a 20 percent fare increase to cover the entire funding gap.

“The current economic climate, including soaring fuel prices, requires tough decisions by transportation leaders to fund operations at a level that will continue to meet the region's transportation needs. Many transportation providers across the country and in the southern California region are faced with the same challenges, and have responded by raising fares up to 35 percent,” Mr. Fenton said.

When Charles Gale, who travels almost every day from Claremont to Downtown Los Angeles, discovered yet another proposed rise in train ticket prices, he claims, “I nearly jumped out of my skin.” Mr. Gale says in his decades of riding the Metrolink he has watched the monthly passes rise from about $137 to today’s rate of about $224.25. Currently, a round-trip ticket from Claremont to Union Station is $17.  With a 9 percent increase, Mr. Gale will pay an additional $1.53 to that price.

“[The rates] almost doubled in the blink of an eye,” Mr. Gale said. “I understand labor cost goes up, but it’s getting to the point where it might be more economical to drive yourself again. It’s pushing people the other way.”

Recognizing the increasing burden on Claremont commuters, city officials are looking at ways to help alleviate some of the burden of rising public transit costs. Councilmember Sam Pedroza, with the help of Mr. Gale, introduced the idea of creating such a program at the city’s priorities meeting in December. Similar to cities like La Verne and Pomona, Claremont could use funds from the AB2766 grant program to sell discounted monthly public transit passes to residents. Through AB2766, signed into law in 1990, money acquired through a vehicle surcharge is used towards programs reducing motor vehicle emissions.

In an interview Monday, Mr. Pedroza said that he has been working with Claremont City Manager Tony Ramos, and spoke with him that morning, in hopes of establishing a way to help partially pay for residents’ Metrolink and other public transportation passes through a program similar to those in neighboring cities. Nothing has been solidified at this point.

“Claremont has a huge contingency of folks that use the Metrolink as regular commuters to Downtown LA,” Mr. Pedroza said. “I think this will impact them tremendously.”

As officials look to identify the appropriate funds, Mr. Gale says that he will be voicing his frustration with the increasing burden of public transportation.

Public workshops in advance of the Metrolink Board of Directors meeting will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. beginning Monday, May 21 [see sidebar for exact locations.]

Each workshop will start with a 20-minute presentation, followed by an interactive information session. Various stations will be set up with information such as how the rates will impact riders and service delivery standards. Participants will also have the opportunity to submit electronic comments to the board.

Those unable to attend the workshops are invited to write comments and send them to the attention of “Metrolink Fares” at the SCRRA headquarters, One Gateway Plaza, Floor 12, Los Angeles, CA or faxto 213-452-0429. Public comments should be sent prior to the May 30 public hearing in order to be considered. Comments can also be submitted electronically at www.metrolinktrains.com/ecomments.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

 

Metrolink public meetings

All meetings are from 6 to 8 p.m.

May 21: Santa Ana Metrolink Station, fifth floor (1000 E. Santa Ana Blvd., Santa Ana)

May 22: Larry Chimbole Cultural Center in the Joshua Room (38350 Sierra Highway, Palmdale)

May 23: Oxnard Public Library in Meeting Room B (251 South A Street in Oxnard, CA)

May 24: The Gateway Center's Union Station Conference Room (One Gateway Plaza, Los Angeles)

May 29: City of San Bernardino Council Chambers (300 North D St., San Bernardino)

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