Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Metrolink To Stop Offering Metro Rail Transfers

Metrolink-to-MTA transfer policy set to change

3:49 PM | February 13, 2009

Metrolink customers who transfer to MTA buses and trains in Los Angeles County should brace for some bad news for their wallets: The days of free transfers will likely end next year.

The issue was discussed at today's special meeting of the Metrolink Board of Directors in downtown Los Angeles. The board was set to make a decision about the transfers at its regular meeting on Feb. 27, but that has been postponed.

The issue is coming to a head because of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's decision last February to install gates and turnstiles at many of its rail stations to reduce the number of passengers who ride without buying tickets. The problem for Metrolink customers is that the paper tickets Metrolink uses won't work in the turnstiles the MTA is installing.

So the onus is on Metrolink to do something. After reviewing the available technology, Metrolink staff told board members that one possible solution is to require customers to also buy a TAP card -- the electronic fare cards that the MTA is trying to adopt. Metrolink would provide the TAP card at a discount: $20 to $30 for an MTA monthly pass, which currently sells for $62.

To put it in more blunt terms, Metrolink passengers who now transfer for free would have to carry two tickets and pay $240 to $360 extra annually to transfer to MTA buses or trains. Metrolink says this would be an increase of about 11% in total cost for their average customers.

As part of the switch, Metrolink also plans to end free transfers for people traveling with one-way or round-trip tickets. Between the moves, Metrolink expects to lose about 725 passengers a day who don't want to pay the higher fares. The trains currently carry about 46,000 passengers on the average weekday.

The obvious problem here is that the two agencies have incompatible ticketing systems. That leads to the obvious question: Why not have Metrolink and MTA adopt the same ticketing system?

Not so fast. Metrolink also runs in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties, and transit agencies in each of those counties have their own ticketing systems.

"We have four other counties that would have to adopt the TAP system," said Francisco Oaxaca, a spokesman for Metrolink. "We're the one that has to come up with a way to work across all five counties. The other counties are going to follow their own paths toward some sort of smart-card technology similar to TAP, but they're all on different time frames and have different needs."

At this point, the only potential out for Metrolink customers is if the MTA decides to chip in some money to further discount TAP cards for them. The chance of that happening? Probably not very good, based on past fiscal policies.

-- Steve Hymon


Alan Huynh said...

I was never a fan of having much regional agencies make transportation decisions for cities, however, this is one instance where a lack of regional agreement is ruining accessibility of transit for residents.

The TAP cards, in my opinion are one of the worst ticketing mechanisms. NYC, Chicago, and SFO's ticketing may be old school, but it's simple, intuitive, and works.

J. Sparks said...

I actually think the biggest problem with the MTA and ticketing is that it's strictly an honor system, and enforcement is weak, at best.

Non-turning "turnstyles" like what DC uses are great, and very wheelchair-friendly. Los Angeles should use something similar, especially as the economy will only lead to an increase in rides trying to cheat the system.

As for TAP cards, I like 'em. Call me a techno-geek, but if I rode public transit more often, I'd buy one and set it up to my debit card, for sure.