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Higher Fares Are on Track for Metrolink

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The cost of escaping the freeways may be getting steeper for the Orange County commuters who cruise to work on Metrolink trains.

The commuter rail network is running out of bond money and elbow room on its trains, and leaders of the 5-year-old commuter system say a bump in ticket prices is needed just to keep services at the current level.

“Lots of things are drying up,” said Sarah L. Catz, chairwoman of the Orange County Transportation Authority and member of the Metrolink board. “An increase seems almost inevitable.”

Metrolink board members will be weighing four price increase options along with a fifth alternative--no hike at all--when they meet May 8 in Los Angeles. Three of the proposals would call for a 4% to 6% price boost in October with similar--sized boosts to follow in 2000 and 2002.

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The cost of a round-trip ticket from Irvine to Los Angeles could jump from $12 to either $12.50 or $12.75, while a monthly unlimited pass for that popular route could go from the current $176 to between $183 and $187. By 2002, that same monthly pass would be about $200 under the price proposals.

The monthly pass is the most popular ticket format for the more than 13,000 passengers--about 2,200 of them in Orange County--who hop on the train on a typical weekday. A monthly pass for a Fullerton to Los Angeles commuter now costs $112, a charge that would rise this fall to between $116.50 and $120 under the proposals, and could climb to as much as $129.75 by 2002.

While Catz said an increase appears inevitable, she encouraged riders to step forward with their views of the proposed rates. A series of public workshops and posted announcements at stations are efforts to reach out to riders, officials said.

“We don’t want people to feel railroaded, so to speak,” Metrolink spokesman Peter Hidalgo said.

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But few passengers seem upset about the prospect of a price increase. Many riders work for employers who pay for part or all of their tickets, and others are so reluctant to brave freeway traffic that only a major price boost would drive them away.

At a public forum Monday night in Santa Ana, fewer than half a dozen passengers showed up--and most of their comments were on unrelated train issues. Metrolink senior administrator Francisco Oaxaca said that has been the case at other forums.

Most passengers, he said, have sentiments like those of William Covington of Tustin, an investment manager who takes the train to Los Angeles three times a week. “I wasn’t happy to see the news, but I’m accepting of it,” he said. “I didn’t like it, but I can live with it.”

Any increase would be the first price change since Metrolink began running. Officials point to the higher cost of doing business in the years since, along with the system’s reliance on bond money that got the trains up and running but is slowly running out, Catz said.

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Catz said the Orange County line, which stretches 87 miles from Oceanside to downtown Los Angeles, will need more money for a “wish list” of improvements, including weekend service, trains in off-peak hours and “reverse” routes for residents who buck the commuter flow (the trains now only run north toward Los Angeles in the morning hours and back south in afternoons).

Metrolink tickets are sold in four varieties: One way, round trip, a voucher for 10 one-way trips within a three-month period, or a pass good for an unlimited number of rides within a single month. For information on schedules and prices, call (800) 371-5465.

Riders who want to share comments on prices with Metrolink officials can mail letters to Fare Adjustments, 700 S. Flower Street, 26th Floor, Los Angeles, 90017-4101. Comments also can be sent by e-mail to metrolinkfares@yahoo.com or faxed to (213) 452-0429.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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Metrolink

Prices may increase in October for the line that accounts for 5,100Orange County trips each day starts in Oceanside and ends in downtown Los Angeles. The 87-mile line has 10 stations, seven of which are in Orange County. Fares are set by the number of zones through which commuters pass. The most popular ticket is the monthly pass for unlimited travel. The Orange County stations are:

*--*

CURRENT PROPOSED STATION MONTHLY MONTHLY Fullerton (2-zone trip to L.A.) $112 $116.50-120 Anaheim, Orange (3 zones to L.A.) 144 149.75-153 Santa Ana, Irvine (4 zones to L.A.) 176 183-187 San Juan Capistrano (5 zones to L.A.) 208 216-220 San Clemente (6 zones to L.A.) 240 248-254

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*--*

* The most popular station on the line is Irvine (21% of all Orange County riders) and Fullerton is second (18%).

* The overall Metrolink system, with six routes and stations in six counties, handles an average of 27,000 riders on weekdays.

Source: Metrolink

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