Orange County commuters who ride Metrolink trains can expect to pay higher prices soon for the privilege.
Metrolink's board of directors Friday approved an average 12.5% increase in ticket prices over four years on the Los Angeles region's fast-growing commuter railroad.
The three-step price increase--beginning with a 4% hike effective Oct. 1--is the first in Metrolink's more than five years of operation and will affect about 13,000 commuters who ride the 416-mile system.
For commuters between Irvine and Los Angeles, the most popular Orange County route, the monthly pass will go from $176 to $183 this fall, $190.25 in 2000 and $198 in 2002. A Fullerton-to-Los Angeles connection will go from $112 to $116.50. And a monthly pass for a Santa Clarita-to-downtown-Los Angeles commuter will increase from $144 to $149.75 this fall, $156 in 2000 and $162 in 2002.
Ticket prices are based on 11-mile zones and the total number of zones traveled.
Responding to suggestions that the agency delay a fare increase until it faces a budget deficit, one board member said, "C'mon, you want us to be like MTA?"
Officials said that if no fare increase were implemented, it would further squeeze county transit agencies, including the financially strapped Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The MTA is expected to provide $32.5 million in tax subsidies to Metrolink in the coming year.
"We have an obligation to the public, not just our riders, to keep our subsidies down," said Sarah L. Catz, a Metrolink board member and chairwoman of the Orange County Transportation Authority.
Fares are expected to cover about half of the system's operating costs in the coming year, requiring an average taxpayer subsidy of $5.20 per rider per trip. Metrolink officials say that since their riders average 36 miles a trip, their per-mile subsidy compares favorably to the 31-cent-per-mile subsidy for an MTA bus passenger.
Opponents of the price increase said it would discourage commuters from using public transit.
"Are we really achieving the goal we're striving for, which is to take people out of their cars?" asked Metrolink board member and Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson.
Richard Stanger, executive director of Metrolink--formally known as the Southern California Regional Rail Authority--said, "Metrolink has a core group of loyal riders who will pay a reasonable fare to ride the train and preserve their stress-free commute."
But the Ventura County Transportation Commission said in a letter: "Needlessly raising fares doesn't seem to be an appropriate way to reward loyal riders."
Ridership is projected to increase 16% in the next year, even with the fare hike, Stanger said.
"The fare adjustment will provide for new services and the ongoing maintenance needed to meet growing demand," said Metrolink board Chairman Alex Clifford.
Officials said they would hold public hearings before the additional 4% increases take effect in 2000 and 2002.
Some commuters said Metrolink should lower prices until service improves.
A father of triplets complained in a letter that late-running trains on the Riverside-to-Los Angeles route have forced his wife to endure long waits at the train station.
"I dare you to try sitting in a car at the train station with three 5-year-olds for an hour," he said.
Metrolink officials said they reduced delays on the line after complaining to Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the track, and are working to further improve on-time performance.
Times staff writer Tini Tran contributed to this report.
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More for Metrolink
Effective Oct. 1, fares on Metrolink trains will increase. Here's how much more you will pay for the most popular ticket, the monthly pass for unlimited travel between here and Los Angeles:
Station Current rate New rate Increase Fullerton $112 $116.50 $4.50 Anaheim, Orange 144 149.75 5.75 Santa Ana, Irvine 176 183.00 7.00 San Juan Capistrano 208 216.00 8.00 San Clemente 240 249.75 9.75
There also will be increases for routes between Orange County and Corona-Riverside. The changes:
Irvine-Santa Ana to West Corona
Irvine-Santa Ana to Riverside