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Metrolink board decides to delay fare hikes, route cuts

On a sharply divided vote, the board of Southern California’s regional commuter rail service today put off a decision on fare increases and possible service cuts until early next year.

Metrolink officials acknowledged that the action could exacerbate a multimillion-dollar shortfall in the current fiscal year's budget, but members of a slim board majority said they wanted to continue exploring other cost-cutting alternatives.

Noting that fares were raised just four months ago, board member Don Knabe, a Los Angeles County supervisor, said, "To continue to do this every few months to our riders, I think is just not right.” Knabe’s motion to delay until February a vote on fare increases was approved on a 6-5 vote of representatives from the five counties that make up the rail network.

Earlier, the board agreed to defer consideration of a series of service cuts until January.

Several board members argued that the financial problems would only get worse and that some combination of fare increases and reduced service needed to be approved quickly.
San Bernardino Mayor Patrick Morris, voting against the delay, said that not taking immediate action was “fiscally irresponsible.”
“It is a painful process [but] it’s time to suck it up and balance this budget as best we can see it.”

Several Metrolink riders attending the board meeting again urged members to hold fares steady. “We need to start shedding from the top,” said rider Gwen Paul, urging the board to cut management expenses.

After the vote, the board went behind closed doors to discuss Chief Executive David R. Solow’s future role in the agency. Solow has been under intense pressure since last year's Chatsworth crash. The Times has reported that he could be moved aside as early as today to a new position overseeing a major safety project. If so, an interim CEO is expected to be appointed while a search for a permanent replacement is conducted.

-- Rich Connell
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