TRANSIT ON THE WRONG TRACK? SOME SAY TAXPAYERS PONY UP TOO MUCH FOR AREA'S FEW RAIL RIDERS.Byline: Lisa Mascaro Staff Writer
The tragic train crash caused by a suicidal su·i·cid·al
1. Of or relating to suicide.
2. Likely to attempt suicide. man last week has focused attention on the 12-year-old Metrolink system and whether it's part of a grand strategy for efficient mass transit mass transit, public transportation systems designed to move large numbers of passengers. Types and Advantages
Mass transit refers to municipal or regional public shared transportation, such as buses, streetcars, and ferries, open to all on a in Southern California Southern California, also colloquially known as SoCal, is the southern portion of the U.S. state of California. Centered on the cities of Los Angeles and San Diego, Southern California is home to nearly 24 million people and is the nation's second most populated region, or whether the massive subsidies that sustain the service would have a greater impact if spent differently.
Every day an average of 40,000 suburbanites vote with their feet by climbing aboard Metrolink trains from Ventura County to San Bernardino San Bernardino, city, United States
San Bernardino (săn bûr'nədē`nō), city (1990 pop. 164,164), seat of San Bernardino co., S Calif., at the foot of the San Bernardino Mts.; inc. 1854. . They are mostly former freeway commuters, but only a small fraction of the million or so riders who use Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses, trains and subway subway: see rapid transit.
Underground railway system used to transport passengers within urban and suburban areas. The first subway line, 3. in Los Angeles Los Angeles (lôs ăn`jələs, lŏs, ăn`jəlēz'), city (1990 pop. 3,485,398), seat of Los Angeles co., S Calif.; inc. 1850. County alone - not to mention the millions of others who drive their cars to work and back.
Still, supporters point out, that is 40,000 fewer commuters on roads and freeways and it is an element of trying to bring effective mass transit to car-crazy Los Angeles, a vital backbone for handling regional growth.
But it comes at a steep price.
The average fare for a Metrolink train trip costs passengers about $5, with the public paying an average subsidy per rider of $5.07, money that comes from sales-tax add-ons that support transportation in the region. That comes on top of the $3 billion in bonds that voters approved to create the system.
And it doesn't factor in the many Metrolink passengers who are public employees whose transit costs are further subsidized sub·si·dize
tr.v. sub·si·dized, sub·si·diz·ing, sub·si·diz·es
1. To assist or support with a subsidy.
2. To secure the assistance of by granting a subsidy. by local taxpayers, something that was starkly visible in last week's crash. Eight of the 11 people who died were government employees.
``It is not a reasonable substitute for most commuters,'' said Genevieve Giuliano, a professor at the University of Southern California's School of Policy, Planning and Development, and director of METRANS, a transportation research institute operated jointly with California State University Enrollment
, Long Beach.
Fellow USC An abbreviation for U.S. Code. professor James E. Moore argues that Metrolink makes no sense in sprawling Los Angeles because job centers are scattered Scattered
Used for listed equity securities. Unconcentrated buy or sell interest. across the region.
``If we invest in transportation systems that are premised on concentrated employment centers, we're certainly making a mistake because that's not the way our urban landscape is organized,'' said Moore, chairman of the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at USC.
``If you're really serious about providing alternative service to commuting on the freeway, those alternatives are not going to be as inflexible as commuter rail. Building a very expensive service that is bound to capture a really small demand - even in the best case - is not a cost-effective decision.''
Metrolink was created by the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, a joint-powers authority set up by the state to bring rail to the region after voters in 1990 approved $3 billion in rail bonds. Taxpayers in the six counties have since approved sales-tax hikes to fund Metrolink and other transit projects.
``We're a very young system,'' said Metrolink spokesman Francisco Oaxaca. ``We're planning for the long term. It's very premature to compare us to other modes of transportation that have been around for more than 12 years.''
Metrolink's $283 million annual budget is overseen in part by the five member counties - Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino - each of which contributes funds, in most cases from sales taxes sales tax, levy on the sale of goods or services, generally calculated as a percentage of the selling price, and sometimes called a purchase tax. It is usually collected in the form of an extra charge by the retailer, who remits the tax to the government. .
Running trains and maintaining the 512-mile system costs $108 million annually, while capital projects make up the remainder of the budget.
Nearly half of the operating revenue operating revenue
Revenue from any regular source. Revenue from sales is adjusted for discounts and returns when calculating operating revenue. Compare other revenue. comes from $46.8 million in fares; the other half comes from the $49.8 million the five counties provide as a subsidy.
Jeff Boothe, a national transit advocate, said the subsidy is on par with those required to run similar commuter systems in Baltimore and San Francisco San Francisco (săn frănsĭs`kō), city (1990 pop. 723,959), coextensive with San Francisco co., W Calif., on the tip of a peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, which are connected by the strait known as the Golden .
``There isn't a transit system in America that pays for itself,'' said Boothe, chairman of the New Starts Working Group, a coalition of transportation agencies pushing for federal rail funds. ``If you adopt that view, let's shut transit down nationwide.''
Rail riders also pay - the average Metrolink commuter pays $160 for a monthly pass. Even more, across the region some private companies and most public agencies pay all or part of the cost for their employees who ride public transit, including Metrolink.
For example, Los Angeles city employees are reimbursed up to $50 a month for their train or bus tickets, while Glendale offers its employees a 60 percent discount on their Metrolink monthly passes.
In Sylmar, Mission College offers its employees $20 a month to help pay for Metrolink passes.
Los Angeles County does not offer discounts or reimbursements, but San Bernardino County - which boasts Metrolink's most popular line - allows employees to deduct de·duct
v. de·duct·ed, de·duct·ing, de·ducts
1. To take away (a quantity) from another; subtract.
2. To derive by deduction; deduce.
v.intr. up to $105 a month from their paycheck, pretax pre·tax
Existing before tax deductions: pretax income.
pretax adj [profit] → vor (Abzug der) Steuern , to buy a train pass.
Persuading workers to ride public transit during rush hour is a key goal of regional transportation planners, who see such worker-incentive programs as an important tool in stemming daily gridlock Gridlock
A government, business or institution's inability to function at a normal level due either to complex or conflicting procedures within the administrative framework or to impending change in the business. .
Supporters say it's no different from funds used to build the federal highway system a generation ago, or the 36-cent tax per gallon that car drivers now pay at the pump for roads.
But critics like Moore see it as throwing good money after bad.
``The folks are all good people. I wish them no ill will. I just don't see a good reason to transfer so much wealth to their welfare.''
He thinks money would be better spent investing in toll roads The following is a list of toll roads. Toll roads are roads on which a toll authority collects a fee for use. This list also contains toll bridges and toll tunnels. Lists of these subsets of toll roads can be found in List of toll bridges and List of toll tunnels. or letting private firms run bus companies.
Still, Metrolink riders tell powerful stories about how their quality of life has improved now that they don't have to fight the freeways to work.
Most riders make long commutes - the average rider travels 35 miles one way each weekday.
Even many of those shaken after Wednesday's crash said they wouldn't trade their seats on the train to get back behind the wheel during rush hour.
``No, transit doesn't pay for itself, but neither do roads,'' said Boothe.
``Who pays for air quality? Who pays for kids who have asthma? Who pays for sprawl? There are a lot of hidden costs (of roads) we don't pay for.
``Yes, transit may appear to be very expensive, but what's the alternative? It's not highways versus transit. It's highways and transit. You have to be investing in it all.''
Staff Writer Kerry Cavanaugh contributed to this report.
Lisa Mascaro, (818) 713-3761