The previous two posts were my disjointed attempt at live-blogging from the meeting yesterday morning, so sorry if they don't make much sense. Typing on a phone keyboard is never a pleasant experience. For those of you who want a more cogent explanation of what happened yesterday morning, read on.
Three members of the public, including myself, commented on the service reductions. I asked the Board to reconsider cutting IE-OC weekend service, and if they did decide to cut said service, to consider extending the San Bernardino Line to Riverside on the weekends more often that is current practise (2 trains a day, peak direction only). The Chairman then closed public comments, and the Board agreed to implement all non-service-related budget actions (including a reduction of Metrolink staff's vacation time this year) unanimously.
OCTA's delegation then promptly moved to cancel the IEOC and OC line trains that were on the chopping block, and RCTC's delegation happily concurred. No discussion occurred, no efforts were made to find alternative funding arrangements. Riders were simply sold down the river.
Following that rage-inducing vote, a member of the San Bernardino County delegation moved on to consider the vulnerable San Bernardino Line trains. He proposed a deal to the Los Angeles County delegation- to extend their traditional 60/40 cost-sharing arrangement to the trains in question. It seems that these trains were started (and hence funded) unilaterally by San Bernardino County, and the additional funding that this cost-sharing arrangement would provide would be enough to allow the trains to keep running, at least through the end of FY 2010.
After some discussion, and an insistence by the LA delegation that they not be obligated to provide this subsidy in perpetuity, a deal was made, and every single train that was covered in the proposed service cuts, except those that serve Orange and Riverside Counties, was spared the budget axe through June at least. In response to this agreement, Board Chair Keith Millhouse agreed to bring donuts for the LA delegation at the following meeting, 1/22. Unfortunately I won't be around to keep him honest.
It was heartening to see politicians working out difficult policy matters for the benefit of their constituents- and saddening to see that the politicians in question weren't from my county.
I was told by a Metrolink staffer after the meeting that the Orange County Line service was only going to be "suspended", to be returned after a later date. He informed me that the diminished weekend service was necessary for construction relating to the Metrolink Sealed Corridors Project and capacity upgrades. And the IE-OC Line trains? "There's just not enough ridership. We're keeping the Beach Train service, but there's just not enough ridership in the winter."
OCTA board member Art Brown said that it was "unfair" to cut bus service and leave Metrolink service intact. Councilman Brown, I'll ignore for a moment the extraordinarily unfair fact that your agency is cutting public transport while providing generous funding for arterial and freeway expansion, even when much of the money involved could be easily diverted to keep buses and trains rolling. Even ignoring that, public transit is a system. There are not two distinct groups, bus riders and train riders (though they do serve different markets), but one big group- transit riders. (This is especially true on the weekends- Metrolink staff's own analysis finds that weekend riders are substantially more likely to be transit-dependent than weekday riders.) Making cuts to Metrolink service isn't balancing two sides of one equation, but rather simply subtracting more from the "transit" side. Perhaps riders who were crippled by your agency's draconian bus cuts found alternate service via Metrolink trains, but alas, you've cut those as well. You aren't standing up for fairness, but rather making people's lives harder for no good reason.
The one good thing about my attendance at this meeting? I was quoted by the L.A. Times. I've been in the Press-Enterprise before, but this is a significant difference in degree. Thanks to Times reporter Rich Connell for the accurate representation, and I promise to start reading his column.