Southern California commuter train ridership down

AP News
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Posted: Sep 08, 2014 3:33 PM
Southern California commuter train ridership down

LOS ANGELES (AP) — While the economy may be recovering from the Great Recession, ridership on Southern California's once-booming regional rail service has not.

The Metrolink train network, which serves six counties and their combined population of 20 million with 512 miles of track, sold nearly 600,000 tickets fewer in its 2014 fiscal year than the peak of 12.3 million riders purchased in its 2009 fiscal year.

Metrolink board members and analysts blame the initial loss of ridership on the recession — and the slow recovery on the lack of an employment boom in downtown Los Angeles, the system's chief destination.

"It's been hard to recover from something so impactful" as the recession, Robert Turnauckas, chief of marketing and communications at Metrolink, told the Los Angeles Times in a story (http://lat.ms/1lNpXRl) published Monday.

Metrolink's struggles do not track with national public transit trends. In March, the American Public Transportation Association reported that the number of rides taken on public buses, trains and subways has fully recovered from a decrease during the recession.

"Rail transit best serves areas with dominant downtowns," said Peter Gordon, professor emeritus of urban and regional economics at the University of Southern California.

In other words, places such as New York and Boston — not Los Angeles, where a downtown cultural and housing renaissance has not translated into more jobs that might bring Metrolink more commuters.

Ridership on the commuter trains of the Bay Area Rapid Transit network has more than fully recovered from a recession-related dip, according to ridership numbers. It stood at 116 million riders in 2013, BART said.

At Metrolink, ridership numbers for 2014 were approaching their 2009 record, but have since fallen back. That decrease, coupled with increasing costs, prompted Metrolink to trim service. Between those cuts and what some riders complain are inconsistent connections to buses and other transit, the system is struggling to regain riders.

In response, Metrolink has been fighting the drop by courting employers, using social media and planning to equip cars with WiFi. It also has publicized safety improvements made since a 2008 collision that killed 25 people.

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Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com