The majority of riders on Southern California's newest commuter trains are well-paid professionals, most of whom previously drove alone from the outlying suburbs to jobs in downtown Los Angeles, according to a survey of Metrolink riders released Friday.
Although two out of three riders say it costs more to ride Metrolink than to drive, car-pool or ride a bus, about half said they consider the cost of riding a better value, according to the first ridership survey completed since the service began in October, 1992.
Based on survey results that show 65% of riders previously commuted alone, Metrolink officials estimate that the trains are responsible for removing about 16,000 cars each week from Southern California's crowded freeways.
Metrolink officials said the survey results were not surprising, considering that the service was designed for the long-haul commuter who works 9-to-5 in downtown Los Angeles.
"Nothing in the survey results we found were unusual," said David Solow, deputy executive director of the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, the five-county board that oversees Metrolink.
The profile of the typical rider will change, Solow said, once the service is expanded to serve commuters who work outside downtown Los Angeles and don't work regular hours. Overall, riders gave Metrolink high marks for cleanliness, personal safety, on-time arrivals and departures, professionalism and courtesy by staff.
But they asked for more evening trains, more space for each passenger and more signs explaining how to transfer to connecting shuttle services, according to the survey.
John Brennan, director of the Times Poll, noted that a high approval rating is expected for such a survey, considering the subjects were people who have already been sold on Metrolink.
"Since the survey is of current riders," he said, "there is a good chance the opinions of these folks toward Metrolink are inherently more positive than the whole potential pool of train users."
Solow acknowledged that weakness of the survey. But he said the rail authority is in the process of completing a survey of non-riders to find out why they don't use Metrolink and what it would take to make them riders. Results from that survey are expected in early summer, he said.
Metrolink is a regional rail network that when complete will span five counties and include 400 miles of track and 60 stations. It now serves 16 stations in Ventura, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties.
The survey was conducted aboard Metrolink trains over a five-day period in late February and early March by Facts Consolidated, a Los Angeles-based research firm. The results were tabulated from questionnaires filled out by 1,689 riders on the three Metrolink lines.
The survey paints the following profile of Metrolink riders:
* 67% of riders are white, 13% are Latino, 13% are Asian and 7% are black.
* The average age is about 40.
* Average household income is $63,300.
* 63% are professionals or managers, 14% are clerical workers and 11% are civil service or government employees.
* 65% previously drove alone, 15% rode in car- or van-pools, 20% rode buses.
* 72% ended their train commute at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.
* Riders live an average of 7.5 miles from their nearest Metrolink station and work about eight miles from a station.
* 77% drive alone from home to the station in the morning; 71% take a Metrolink shuttle, bus or Metro Red Line subway from the station to work.
Although about 60% said Metrolink costs more to ride than other transportation modes, about half said Metrolink is a better value and another 15% said it is an equal value, the survey said.
"There are strong indications that Metrolink is thought to be a dependable and stress-free means of commuting, and these may influence the perception of value," according to a summary of the survey.
Financial incentives could explain why Metrolink's average daily ridership has jumped from 2,397 in November to 4,928 last month.
The survey found that about half of the riders received some type of subsidy from their employer. The average subsidy was $57.30 per month. Nearly 60% would have to pay for parking if they drove to work, according to the survey. The average cost for parking is $81 per month.
When riders were asked to comment on the service, 25% voiced complaints on cost, service, amenities and ticket vending machines. Only 9% offered compliments and 46% made suggestions to improve the service.
Many also said ridership would "increase a lot" if tickets could be purchased at automated teller machines and by credit cards at work, by mail or at other locations besides the Metrolink stations, the survey said.
In a related development, Metrolink service will be expanded to three new Inland Empire stations on Monday. During the first week, commuter service will be free, officials said. The new stations are at 300 East A St. in Upland, 260 Riverside Ave. in Rialto, and 1204 N. 3rd St. in San Bernardino.
With the addition of the stations, the San Bernardino line will be complete, Metrolink spokesman Peter Hidalgo said.
Who Rides Metrolink
A survey of 1,689 Metrolink riders shows most are professionals who previously drove alone to work.
On-time arrivals: 827
Space allotted to each passenger: 691
On-time departures: 896
Safety at stations: 842
Survey ratings on scale of 0-1000
Who's on Board
No answer: 3%
Drove alone: 65%
Demographics of Riders
Average age: 39.5 years
Household Income: $63,300
5 Days a Week: 82%
Use each time to travel to the destination: 69%
Monthly Pass: 67%
Source: Metrolink and Facts Consolidated.