Saturday, January 9, 2010

Metrolink Board Meeting, 1/8/10

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.

2 comments:

  1. I posted this on the TransitRiderOC blog, but I am reposting this here as well.
    First off, if one were to travel from San Bernardino to Oceanside via train, they could continue to do so by traveling through Union Station. For example, leaving San Bernardino at 11:05 and arriving at Union Station at 12:35 on Saturday, then departing on the OC train at 12:45 and arriving at Oceanside at 2:43. A little over 3.5 hours. Much longer than the direct route, but still doable. Or take a westbound San Bernardino train to connect to Amtrak Pacific Surfliner for more options. In addition, there are two Greyhound roundtrips between Riverside, Santa Ana, and Anaheim (along the Las Vegas-Los Angeles route). Now no one likes riding the Dog, but it is out there, and there are a lot bigger gaps - think Riverside to Palm Springs, San Bernardino to Victorville, or Temecula to Escondido - that are not served by any public transit at all on the weekends. Riverside to El Monte is a viable option on the Dog, with multiple trips - El Monte Station is served by the MTA Silver Line and is a much more pleasant place than the hole that is the LA Greyhound station. From El Monte, take the bus west to Union Station, or the MTA 270 south to the Norwalk Metrolink station or Norwalk Green Line to catch the MTA 460 to Disneyland. All jerry-rigged options, but a far cry from implying that Riverside residents are shut out of the world.

    The plain fact is that on the IEOC beach train, there isn't enough ridership in the winter. Winter weekend service on the IEOC line averages less than 100 riders per trip. The cost of running a Metrolink train is roughly $500 an hour. With a Metrolink train taking 2.5 hours on the IEOC line, that's $1250 - a cost per ride of $12.50. When you remember that some of the 100 riders were on the Orange-Oceanside segment and thus have additional options of Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, it makes a lot of sense to curtail the service during the winter. (During the summer, ridership does jump, and at least two trains in each direction should be offered - similar to the Beach Train 10 years ago.)

    And Art Brown is correct OCTA - bus service has been slashed by almost 25% from its zenith three years ago. Similarly, in the past five years, the OCTA cash bus fare has gone up 50% and day pass 60%. Yet not a single Metrolink train has been cut, and fare increases, although painful, have been regular at roughly 4-5% a year (cumulative increase over the past five years of roughly 25%). Everyone can agree that there needs to be more funding, preferably from the state not stealing transit funds and/or an increase in the gas tax. But, in the interim, it's time for Metrolink riders to feel the pain too.

    When the average three car train seats 450, you are talking about less than a quarter of the train ever having a seat occupied at any time. OCTA is in much dire financial straits than MTA, which has Measure R funds that can backfill the loss. Art Brown did the right thing to share the pain.

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  2. Calwatch-
    First off, if you were at the meeting you'd know that one of the strategies I suggested to the Board was to extend the SB Line down to Riverside for each train on the weekends. (It's currently done for two trains per day.) San Bernardino and Riverside are connected by public transit, but not well. The Omnitrans 215 used to link the train stations, but no longer, so travelling from the Riverside Metrolink station to the San Bernardino Metrolink station means a ~6-8 block walk on both ends. It also takes nearly an hour, a journey the train makes in 20-30 minutes. Is the SB Line an option for Riversiders? Sort of, but not a very good one. And for Corona? Add on a two-hour local bus ride to Riverside.

    Next, let's flip this around a bit.

    "First off, if one were to travel from San Bernardino to Oceanside by freeway, they could continue doing so by travelling through downtown Los Angeles. Leaving San Bernardino, taking the I-10 to downtown LA, then change to the I-5 south to Oceanside. A trip time between 2:20 and 4:20, depending on traffic. Much longer than the direct route, but still doable. In addition, there's a tiny mountain road above the Santa Ana River canyon in Yorba Linda. Now, nobody likes driving it, but it is out there. All of these are jerry-rigged options, but a far cry from implying that Riverside drivers are cut off from the world.

    The plain fact is that on the CA-91, there isn't enough traffic in the winter. Winter weekend traffic on the highway averages 500 people per lane per hour. Compare this to the usual 1,500-2,100 per lane per hour that it sees during weekday rush hour, and remember that many of these drivers were on the Orange-Oceanside segment and thus have additional options of surface streets, it makes a lot of sense to close the freeway on the weekends.

    And Art Brown is correct. OCTA bus service has been slashed by almost 25% from its zenith three years ago. Similarly, in the past five years, the OCTA cash bus fare has gone up 50% and day pass 60%. Yet not a single freeway lane has been closed, and widening projects have been regular at roughly 4-5 a year. Everyone can agree that there needs to be more funding, preferably from an increase in the gas tax. But, in the interim, it's time for freeway drivers to feel the pain too.

    When the average lane moves 2,100, you are talking about less than a quarter of the freeway ever having a car on it at any time. OCTA is in much more dire financial straits than MTA, which has Measure R funds that can backfill the loss. Art Brown did the right thing to close the CA-91."

    Cue rioting in 3... 2... 1...

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