Metrolink:Raise Ridership Not Fares for More Revenue

By Noel T. Braymer

With about 18 million potential passengers in Metrolink’s market, it is barely scratching the surface with about 50,000 passengers on a good day. There is no mystery how to increase rail passenger revenue. Train revenue increases with longer routes  serving as many markets as possible by selling more of the highest priced and longest distance tickets. The next best thing are good connections with other trains and connecting buses to increase the number of markets for each train. Lastly it is important to keep trains in revenue service as much as possible. Transportation services sells time on seats, that is its inventory. When a train sits idle during the day or runs with empty seats that is the same as a supermarket throwing out rotten food. Markets discount food prices to sell it before throwing it out. Businesses when they need cash have a sale. They need to clear out inventory and get cash for it. Commuter train service is inefficient because outside of weekday rush hours the seats are usually empty. Trains cost money standing still, so it is better to have trains running earning revenue. Before raising fares Metrolink needs a business plan to increase revenue with increased ridership.

To show what happens when there are not enough trains stations  on a route we can look at the experience of Amtrak which has tried several times to increase ridership with faster trains by skipping stations. They all failed  losing ridership with fewer stations and market combinations. This has happened 3 times on the Surfliners since the 1980’s. We see the same thing happening now on the Orange County Metrolink Line with some trains that only run between Fullerton and Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo carrying small loads by bus standards. These trains only stop at 7 stations, so these trains miss 6 stations between Los Angeles and Oceanside. It is not possible now due to track capacity problems to extend these trains to Los Angeles or Oceanside. But adding bus connections to these trains will help by increasing the number of markets for these trains.

Metrolink has plenty of room to add passengers on their non-rush hour trains. This can be done with improved marketing and connections both by train and bus. For example there are now 8 round trips between Riverside and Orange County with 4 round trips extended to San Bernardino and 2 to Oceanside. With bus connections service can be economically expanded to 8 round trips between Oceanside and San Bernardino. Increased train frequency increases ridership. Ridership on some of these trains is often low. Increasing ridership with discounted tickets would increase income. Few people know about these trains and improved rail connections are needed  on them to San Diego and to Anaheim and Los Angeles .

What will greatly increase ridership and revenues will be by combining rail lines into longer routes. A good example of this would be for non-rush hour and weekend service between Lancaster to Oceanside through Los Angeles. Until run-through tracks are built at Los Angeles Union Station train traffic is too congested at Los Angeles during rush hours for through trains. Running trains through Los Angeles is done now in non-rush hour times by Surfliner push-pull trains from San Diego to Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. Extended service has been very successful on the Surfliners and will also work for Metrolink which also have push-pull trains. A good name for this new train might be the FUN TRAIN. With such a service passengers from the Antelope and Santa Clarita Valleys could ride the train to the beaches of southern Orange County and Oceanside. This has been proven successful for trains from the Inland Empire to Oceanside. For passengers at either end bus connections would be possible to take the train to connect to Magic Mountain, Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland. In addition there are Angels games and other events at the Anaheim Stadium. These trains would also serve the many attractions of downtown Los Angeles and access by subway to Hollywood. More marketing can attract more passengers for such trips.

Train service could also be extended from San Bernardino through downtown Los Angeles to Chatsworth with some trains to Ventura County. There could be bus connections to Ventura County for trains stopping at Chatsworth. To extend more trains past Chatsworth than which run now will require more track work. This will make it easier for people in the San Gabriel Valley to travel to Bob Hope Airport , for business or just to visit friends and family in the San Fernando Valley. Most important these trains going north, south, east or west from Los Angeles Union Station can meet at and share a common platform for easy transfers. This will allow easy transfers for people between trains traveling from Orange County, or Palmdale to the San Gabriel Valley or the San Fernando Valley to places in Orange County with Metrolink stations. Burbank would be the best transfer point for trains between the Antelope and San Fernando Valleys. This is pretty much what airlines do with hubs at airports. This has economically expanded their markets at low cost for the airlines and is a good reason that this should be done too with Metrolink. With this not only would ridership and passenger revenue greatly increase, but Metrolink would then become a truly regional rail passenger service and not just a commuter railroad.

So who has done this, combine existing rail services into one long line through a major city? How about London, England. Back in 1988 London opened Thameslink which runs 140 miles from the north to the south of London. By 1998 it was overcrowded. To relieve congestion on this line it is being upgraded to the tune of 8.6 billion dollars. This will allow 10 car trains on Thameslink running roughly every 3 minutes in each direction. Thameslink directly serves Luton Airport in the north of London and Gatwick Airport to the South. This construction will be finished by 2018. Also opening in 2018 is Crossrail in London. This combines 2 existing lines into one 73 mile line from west to east through central London. This project will cost just over 24 billion dollars and requires 13 miles of tunneling. This will include a tunnel to connect Heathrow Airport to Crossrail. Both Thameslink and Crossrail will meet in London at Farringdon Station so passengers can transfer between lines. The population of the greater London area is about that of Los Angeles and Orange Counties combined. Metrolink already serves a larger population than that and can accomplishes what London is doing for far less money.

If you would like to contact Metrolink about what you think should be done to improve its cash balance, here’s how from the Metrolink website.

As a recipient of Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funding, Metrolink is required to comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and to carry out the United States Department of Transportation’s Title VI regulations. Comments and suggestions on the proposed fare increase, fare policy changes and Title VI policies may be submitted orally or in writing at a public hearing to be held on June 14, 2013 at a meeting of the Metrolink Board of Directors or submitted in advance (by June 12, 2013 at noon) of the public hearing by clicking on the “eComment” option at www.metrolinktrains.com/ecomments. Comments can also be submitted by mail in advance of the public hearing by sending feedback to the attention of “Metrolink Fares” at the SCRRA headquarters located at One Gateway Plaza, Floor 12, Los Angeles, CA or faxed to the attention of “Metrolink Fares” at (213) 452-0429 . No public comments will be considered after the public hearing scheduled for June 14, 2013 begins.

Metrolink will also hold public workshops across its five-county service area to provide information to the public and solicit additional input from the public. The workshops, all beginning at 6 p.m., will be held in advance of the public hearing. The workshops will be:

– June 3, at the Oxnard Public Library in Meeting Room B (251 South A Street in Oxnard, CA)

– June 4, at the Santa Ana Metrolink Station on the fifth floor (1000 E. Santa Ana Blvd in Santa Ana, CA)

– June 5, at the City of San Bernardino Council Chambers (300 North D Street in San Bernardino, CA)

– June 6, at the Larry Chimbole Cultural Center in the Joshua Room (38350 Sierra Highway in Palmdale, CA)

– June 7, at The Gateway Center’s Union Station Conference Room (One Gateway Plaza, Los Angeles, CA)

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