By Nick Gerda, October 2014
Southern California’s main passenger
railroad is in for a significant “imminent” change, Orange County’s
transportation board chairman said Monday, noting frustrations by the
county’s representatives on the railroad’s board.
he was vague about the potential change, Orange County Transportation
Authority Chairman Shawn Nelson suggested the possibility of a different
agency being contracted to manage rail service.
imminent. They cannot run this system and we are wasting our time
asking them to,” Nelson, who also sits on the railroad’s board, said at
Monday’s OCTA board meeting.
“I’m not trying to make a news story,” he added.
OCTA board members went directly into closed session Monday morning after the public part of their meeting.
Metrolink spokesman Jeff Lustgarten didn't immediately return phone messages seeking comment.The
potential changes come amid frustration by OCTA board members over what
they describe as a poor customer experience at Metrolink and unreliable
poorly run and wouldn’t have any idea what their ridership is,” said
Nelson. “It’s sort of an endless source of frustration.”
there – we’re just continuing to go back to a very poor model, with a
lot of [human resources] issues,” he added. “We’re just tired of
fighting about HR and personalities and not focusing on ridership and
fares and things like that.”
Hennessey, who is the vice chairman of Metrolink’s board, also chimed
in with frustrations over ridership figures and financial issues.
Across the region, Metrolink has experienced a drop of nearly 600,000 annual passengers since 2008, according to the railroad. Ridership in Orange County was reported to have increased over the last year.
But Hennessey said the data isn't to be trusted.
“Ridership could be up, ridership could be down. We really don’t know,” said Hennessey.Referring to what he described as a “budgetary problem,” Hennessey said Metrolink is late in “closing out” its books.
“You can ask for these things all you want…but they just don’t act,” said Hennessey.
When they don’t seem capable of reacting or understanding, “what do you do?” he asked.
Nelson replied that “the short answer” is to find an agency with the “pieces in place” and contract them to run the partnership.
was unclear which partnership Nelson was referring to – Metrolink’s
board is comprised of representatives from across Southern California,
and OCTA itself pays Metrolink to provide rail service.
OCTA board member Lori Donchak asked how OCTA should get Nelson’s message across.
“I’m being polite on purpose,” Nelson replied. “It’s imminent. The thing is not workable right now.”OCTA CEO Darrell Johnson has spoken with the transportation agency CEOs from other county members of Metrolink, Nelson added.
As for providing more specifics on the changes, Nelson said: “Those alternatives are very difficult if we out them in advance.”
Monday’s discussion, Donchak pointed to difficult-to-use ticket
machines as one of many customer experience problems with Metrolink.
have to be a rocket scientist to figure” out the machines, said
Donchak. “It’s time for the customer experience to move to the top of
the priority list.”
other regional rail service, Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner, Metrolink
tickets cannot be purchased online or via a mobile app – thus requiring
passengers to purchase the tickets at the station.Additionally,
after a ticket and receipt is printed out, the machines often wait
about 20 seconds before allowing a new ticket buying process to start.
busy ridership times, those delays exacerbate long lines of people
waiting to buy tickets. Sometimes, people who arrive early still miss
their train due to a long line at a station’s sole Metrolink ticket
And even when passengers do purchase tickets, they’re often not checked on board the trains.OCTA’s board has had a fraught relationship with Metrolink recently.
Last year, the OCTA board voted to postpone subsidy payments to the railroad amid a $66 million accounting error.