SoCal rail authority gets earful of riders' concerns at meeting

Metrolink riders today told the commuter agency that train schedule slots slated for elimination are just one of their concerns, along with fare increases.

At today's public hearing held by the Southern California Regional Rail Authority's board of directors, which oversees the commuter agency, passengers said that proposed fare increases and service reductions could make their weekday commute more difficult, even if their lines were not slated for elimination.

Christopher Covault, who lives in the Antelope Valley, told the board that while Southern Californians are being asked to consider relocating to the area, "it's counterproductive'' to do so when public transport in the region may be reduced.

Metrolink officials are considering cutbacks, a fare increase, reduced schedules and the elimination of underperforming trains to help offset Metrolink's $17.3 million budget shortfall. Metrolink provides rail service in five Southern California counties.

Agency staff has recommended elimination of a dozen trains and a systemwide average fare increase of 6 percent, or 33 cents, per trip.

Half of the 12 underperforming trains on the chopping block are part of the Ventura County line, while San Bernardino, the Inland Empire and Burbank could lose two trains apiece, according to a report prepared for today's meeting.

The board will vote on the proposals at its April 23 meeting, staff said.

Not everyone who spoke was concerned with the fare increase.

"I am willing to pay more for more service,'' said Allon G. Percus, a West Los Angeles resident who said he commutes to Claremont a few times a week.

"I hope you keep in mind we're willing to put our money where our mouth is.'' As he spoke, a member of the audience could be heard to grumble, "Fool!''

One speaker, Carol Arnold, also of the Antelope Valley, said she opposed any service cuts to the system, but had an idea to drum up some cash.

"Billboards on trains,'' she said, suggesting the agency sell advertising on its trains to bolster revenue, rather than raising fares.

After the public hearing wrapped up, Metrolink Vice Chairman Richard Katz was asked about the good-natured atmosphere in the boardroom.

"We have the greatest, most loyal riders,'' he said. "And we want to do the best we can for them.''