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6% Metrolink fare hike OK'd Board limits service cuts and agrees to drop only four trains instead of a dozen.

Byline: Troy Anderson Staff Writer

Faced with falling ridership and a $17 million budget shortfall, the Metrolink board Friday gave preliminary approval to raising train fares by 6 percent.

But the board backed off a plan to reduce the number of commuter trains it runs through the San Fernando Valley and other regions.

It decided to eliminate only four trains - two each on the Ventura County and San Bernardino lines - instead of the 12 that had been originally proposed.

"In some cases, the lines we preserved are the only public transit available for commuters, especially those who live in the Antelope Valley," Metrolink board member Richard Katz said. "We preserved most of the lines because we want to make sure there is as much service as possible."

Metrolink board members and county Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Don Knabe voted against the fare increase.

"We believe that increasing fares is a detriment to those who are considering using Metrolink as a viable form of commuting," said Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell. "We believe this will prevent them from using Metrolink as a way to get to work."

The fare hikes would raise the average cost of a monthly pass - which can vary widely based on distance - by $12.

If adopted, the fare increases would go into effect on July 1.

The lines slated for possible elimination were midday trains 306 and 323 on the San Bernardino Line and trains 105 and 114 on the Ventura County Line.

Bart Reed, executive director of The Transit Coalition, a San Fernando-based group that advocates for the public transportation system, said he supported the fare increase because he didn't want to see lines cut.

"We're disappointed the service cuts occurred and we'll be working to figure out how to pair those trains with others and preserve them," Reed said. "But we are happy that Metrolink reached out and preserved mobility rather than having people on the roads, which would be a major hit to employers in Burbank and Cal State Northridge if those lines had been eliminated."

In an effort to balance its budget, Metrolink originally looked at discontinuing low-ridership weekend and weekday commuter trains.

"The challenge we're facing, more than anything else, is a drop in ridership," Metrolink spokesman Francisco Oaxaca said. "Our ridership is very closely tied to employment levels."

When the economy is growing, he said, more people take the trains to commute, but with unemployment high now, ridership has declined.

In its efforts to reduce costs, Oaxaca said, Metrolink has cut costs in a number of areas, including concessions from vendors, service reductions and requiring employees to make additional contributions to their benefit packages. Metrolink employees have foregone cost-of-living increases for the last three years.

As part of its deliberations, Metrolink held a public hearing earlier this month and sought public comments. A total of 2,721 comments were received, many expressing opposition to a fare increase.

During the hearing, Santa Clarita Mayor Pro Tem Marcia McLean testified that she uses Metrolink whenever she can.

"And as I do that, I speak to people who would be absolutely devastated by the cuts that were first proposed," McLean testified April 2. "If ridership is down, I think it's simply because there are not enough trains - not too many, but too few, and if you wish to increase your ridership, make the trains more accessible to people for different times of day rather than reducing."

During Friday's hearing, Metrolink board members representing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Orange County Transportation Authority and Riverside County Transportation Commission made motions to continue to fund six Ventura County Line trains, including trains 103, 108, 107, 112, 900 and 901 to Bob Hope Airport. Those motions, which include commitments of funding from the various agencies, are subject to approval by each of those boards.

Once those boards have decided whether to approve the additional funding for Metrolink, the plan will return to the Metrolink board for final approval, along with the agency's $199 million budget for 2010-11.

"I think they are being very reasonable," said Kymberleigh Richards, the public and legislative affairs director for Southern California Transit Advocates. "They scaled back on the scope of service changes they were going to make. As far as the fare increases, most of the passengers who submitted comments said they were willing to accept fare increases as a trade-

off for no service cuts."

troy.anderson@dailynews.com,

213-974-8985
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 24, 2010
Words:738
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