From the Los Angeles Daily News – When money gets tight, the natural reaction is to either cut costs or raise revenues. Reactionary moves might be instinctual, however, they are not always intelligent. Case in point is a proposal before the Metrolink’s board for a 6 percent fare hike.
If adopted, it would be the second fare hike in six months – fares were raised 3 percent in August – even as revenue is falling.
The idea is that it would help short-term money woes.
The problem is, it might make them even worse.
Projected revenues based on new taxes and fees are famously hard to estimate accurately because people often make other choices when prices go up. Pair that with a deep and protracted economic recession, and Metrolink could end up driving away the riders it desperately needs.
The board was set to vote on the hikes Friday, but put it off to study other options, including service cuts. We encourage board members to study this option: lowering fares. Maybe even eliminating them for some folks or days.
This might seem counterintuitive to a public agency. But it’s standard practice for private businesses. When customer traffic starts to slow, the last thing retail stores do is jack up prices. That’s only going to drive away more customers into more competitively priced stores.
Instead, they have sales.
Metrolink – and for that matter the buses, subways and shuttles operated by MTA and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation – can remain competitive in the people-moving business by having a sale of its own, a blowout with prices-so-low-we-got-to-be-crazy fares to lure in the budget conscious.
Riding Metrolink is not cheap. But for far-flung or environmentally minded commuters, it’s been reasonable exchange: $8.25 each way for a trip between Simi Valley and Union Station rather than fighting down the 118, Interstate 5 and into downtown each morning.
One of the reasons that Metrolink is having money problems is because ridership is down about 15 percent. That’s not a huge surprise considering the currently high unemployment rates. Metrolink is heavily reliant on a customer base of actually employed riders who can afford the luxury of paying as much as $20 a day for the convenience of sleeping or reading on the way to work. With pay cuts and jobs losses, there are simply fewer of those customers. What’s more, those who are still employed are finding that a perversely pleasurable side effect of the job losses is lighter rush-hour traffic.
If riding public transportation suddenly became a fantastic deal – like some of the dirt-cheap offers grocery stores have come up with to entice customers – people would put up with some inconvenience and, if not flock to ride, at least not abandon their preferred form of travel.
Only building up dedicated ridership is going to help Metrolink solve its long-term financial problems. Hiking fares won’t do that, but putting them on sale just might.
Los Angeles Daily News