OC considers train fare reduction program

ANAHEIM, Calif. Four-hundred-thousand people in Orange County ride Metrolink every month. That's about a third higher than this time last year, mainly because gas prices have people taking the train instead of their vehicles. OCTA officials would like to see even more riders than that, so they want to test out an idea.

People in Orange County ride Metrolink on average for about 40 miles a trip, according to the Orange County Transportation Authority. But the OCTA would like to get more riders to take the train more often for shorter distances.

"Imagine in Orange County, for example, you might go from Fullerton to Anaheim for a baseball game. That's a short trip. So the fare might be less than it would normally be. Today it's more than $5, so a person isn't going to make that trip, but if it was a dollar or a dollar and a half, they probably would, rather than pay for parking," said OCTA Chief Executive Officer Art Leahy.

OCTA plans to work with Metrolink on a pilot project to see if they can attract more commuters by reducing prices on shorter train trips. Right now fares are based on zones, which some argue can be confusing.

So far it's not clear what fare might be charged for the pilot program, but recently a focus group said a flat rate of one dollar per stop could attract new riders.

"If [it was] lower I would consider that, but one day, $12 dollars -- I'm a student; it's expensive for me," said Liu Yu.

Officials say the pilot program could work together with Metrolink's plans to double service by 2010, when it will run trains every half-hour, 18 hours a day, between Fullerton and Laguna Niguel.

Some riders say the cheaper fare might attract commuters, but it all comes down to where they need to go.

"It's not so much a matter of the fare, except for the frequent riders, it's a matter of the logistics involved in getting from the train station to where you want to go," said train rider Alonzo Pedrin. "And if it's difficult to get from the train station to your final destination, a reduction fare doesn't overcome that hurdle."

Officials say that some cities do have transportation in place to take riders, for instance at Anaheim, to take riders from the train station to the Anaheim resort area, so they've tried to solve that problem.

As for the pilot project, OCTA officials say they are talking with Metrolink and they hope to have the program in place by January.


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