Imagine if the planned 402-mile network of Metrolink commuter rail service in Southern California was fareless, as "rail freeways." (As in car freeways, funding could be from indirect sources, such as proceeds from retail and parking revenue at train stations.)
People would then have a powerful motive to use rail to travel within our urban region, using a private car, taxi, bus, or streetcar to reach their nearest train station. Freeway traffic may be cut significantly. SigAlerts may become only a memory.
Yet free or not, to make rail a success, our conventional L.A.-centric thinking needs change.
Southern California's rail network should be designed and operated as our freeway network: horizontal elevators that link our multiple downtowns, efficiently moving people and freight for trips of any length, in any direction, any time of day.
Rail travel in Southern California should not be developed just for trips between Moorpark and Los Angeles, or even between Burbank and Irvine, but also for other commuter trips, such as trips between Burbank and Warner Center or between Del Mar and Irvine. Likewise it should not be developed only as a way to move people, but also as a way to move goods, such as moving the mail at night.
Eventually, if needed, the rail network could be expanded along our freeways, especially the San Diego Freeway, to provide a direct link into the heart of major destinations such as Sherman Oaks, UCLA, LAX and the Orange County airport area.
Perhaps in the meantime, major new institutions--hospitals, courthouses, community colleges, airport terminals, government office buildings, magnet high schools, central post offices--should be located at train stations, so that the public sector can demonstrate its commitment to rail travel.
DAVID J. BAAB