Monday, May 9, 2011

OCTA authorizes more Metrolink trains within OC

Transit board approves 6 new O.C. Metrolink trains

The Orange County Transportation Authority board approved a scaled-back plan to add six trains between Fullerton and Laguna Niguel, after the agency initially envisioned adding 32 weekday countywide trains.

These trains will operate in the late afternoon and evening beginning this summer, providing service to a previously underserved market, OCTA officials said.

The Orange County Transportation Authority board approved a scaled-back plan to add 6 trains between Fullerton and Laguna Niguel, after the agency initially envisioned adding 32 weekday countywide trains.

The six trains provide a total of 48 daily trains servicing Orange County. An additional six trains could be implemented in fiscal year 2014-15.

The expansion, which was approved by voters as part of the renewed Measure M sales tax ballot initiative in 2006, ultimately envisions bringing the daily total of trains to 76. The overall cost, which includes buying new locomotives and passenger cars as well as making improvements to stations, expanding parking lots, and making street crossings safer, is more than $400 million.

When voters approved the measure, the county was going through a robust economic growth and officials predicted that by 2010, average weekday ridership on the three Metrolink lines that serve Orange County would grow from about 14,000 to more than 30,000.

Then came the recession.

During the past three months of 2010, combined average weekday ridership on the three lines servicing Orange County was 14,093, a decrease of 1.3 percent compared to the same period in fiscal year 2009-10.

Will Kempton, OCTA's CEO, believes that once trains are running more frequently, more people will ride them.

The idea is that, with trains running every half hour or so, "people won't have to worry so much about a schedule," Kempton said in a previous interview. "They can simply go to the station and know that there will be a train."

A $7 intra-county day pass for use on all OCTA local buses and Metrolink service was also approved to correspond with the new service.

Meanwhile, as the OCTA approved this plan, Metrolink launched an express service for passengers who travel on the Antelope Valley and San Bernardino lines. The service is supposed to save daily commuters up to five hours a week by limiting the number of times the trains stop.

"As gas prices continue to increase and transportation funding remains scarce, Metrolink is assuming a bigger role in meeting the region's transportation needs by adding service that provides more solutions for our ridership," said Metrolink CEO John Fenton in a statement.


The OCLink Pass may turn out to be even bigger than the increased Metrolink schedule. One of the larger detractions to ridership on Metrolink is the cost of a ticket. An all day pass for $7, however, is a major reduction in cost, by more than 50% on a round-trip ticket between Laguna Niguel and Fullerton for instance, and a drop to 33% of the normal round-trip fare between the outliers of Buena Park and San Clemente. These ticket prices are lower than parking alone for Angels Stadium or the Honda Center, which are both directly served by Metrolink, which means that, presuming that the schedules have enough trains, especially trains later in the evening, there should be a healthy boost in ridership, especially for the Honda Center, whose parking costs are sufficiently high to make it cheaper to bring multiple people by train rather than drive and park.

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