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Metrolink board delays decision on fare hike after thousands protest

November 13, 2009 |  1:00 pm

Faced with strong opposition from riders and questions about agency finances, the board of Southern California’s commuter rail agency today postponed a decision on a proposed 6% fare increase just three months after the last rate hike.

After receiving protests from thousands of riders, Metrolink board members opted to review a range of possible alternatives to the ticket price increase, including cuts to lightly used service, at a meeting next month.

“You want to charge us more to ride your trains,” law firm employee Charlie McDaniel, who commutes from Riverside to Los Angeles, told the board. “Many of the riders barely have the money to pay their rent.” McDaniel presented petitions she said contained signatures of 2,500 riders opposed to the fare hike. Officials previously said they received more than 1,300 comments opposing the rate hikes.

Others said the proposed increase, on top of a 3% increase implemented in August, was coming at the worst possible time, amid a record recession.

Rita Yussoupovao said she already spends more than $400 per month commuting from Irvine to Sylmar on Metrolink. “It’s really, really hard for me financially,” she said. “Somehow give us an option so we can continue riding.”

Ridership and ticket revenue on the five-county rail system have tumbled about 15% from last year largely due to job losses across the region and lower gasoline prices that have encouraged more people to drive. Ridership is now below levels of four years ago, officials said. Ticket revenue is forecast to be $7.7 million below what had been planned for in the current year's budget.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe and other board members criticized the agency’s budgeting process and contracting procedures, saying more has to be done to stabilize finances and get better deals from vendors.

“We need to get our arms around this,” he said. “We just can’t continue to do this to our ridership every few months.”

-- Rich Connell

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