Southern California’s commuter railroad will lower local fares by 60%

Metrolink, the commuter railroad in Los Angeles that has faced declining ridership for the past few years, has a new CEO:  Art Leahy, formerly of LA Metro.

One of his first actions will be to test out reduced fares. A pilot program on the Antelope Valley line will reduce all fares by 25% for 6 months.

Additionally, local fares will be steeply discounted.  Trips from one station to the next will cost $2, and a ride between stations two stops apart will cost $4.  This discount is only valid between 9am-2pm.

Previously, local fares have been prohibitively expensive.  A trip of as little as two miles can cost $5 on Metrolink, making its short-haul fares some of the highest in the country.  The national average local fare on commuter railroads is about $3

Part of the reason fares were set so high to discourage local riders has been to divert these riders to local buses.   In a region with many local transit operators, each has their own territory.Metrolink is a multi-county entity that is largely structured to serve long-distance trips. City and regional entities are meant to serve local trips.

These political separations have resulted in a climate where the agencies believe that a local rider “should” take the bus and not the train, because it’s not the railroad’s focus to carry local riders.  This is regardless of what mode of travel is actually best suited for the trip.

Time-wise, Metrolink is highly competitive in local markets.   The railroad’s Antelope Valley Line runs to Glendale and Burbank, two cities near Los Angeles.  From Downtown Los Angeles, it takes 10 minutes to get to Glendale and 15 minutes to get to Burbank on the train.  By bus, the trip to Glendale can take 30-50 minutes, and the trip to Burbank even longer.

The fare reduction is only possibie this time because  LA Metro, one of Metrolink’s funders,  has agreed to fund marketing, and provide for any lost fare revenue.  And with Metro’s buy-in, Metrolink cannot be accused of poaching local passengers.

Of course, if ridership increases enough, there will be no deficit to make up for.  Metrolink is making a bet that it will attract more passengers with lower fares, and given how slow bus service is,  I’d assume so too.

If the trial is a success, fare reductions could be make permanent and spread to other lines.  Then, Metrolink would be a functioning part of the urban transit system, rather than a congestion-relief service for suburban commuters only.

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