Metrolink trains sit at platforms at Los Angeles Union Station. Photo by John Schreiber.
Metrolink trains sit at platforms at Los Angeles Union Station. Photo by John Schreiber.

Once hailed as the fastest-growing commuter line in the nation, Metrolink has seen its annual ridership drop by almost 595,000 passengers since 2008, causing revenue losses, which, together with other factors, have left the rail line squeezed between trimming service or boosting fares, it was reported Monday.

Officials of the six-county system, which serves a region of more than 20 million people, mostly blame the downturn on the worst recession since World War II, which decimated the region’s workforce, the Los Angeles Times reported.

They also note that downtown Los Angeles, the predominant destination for Metrolink commuters, is undergoing a residential renaissance, but has faded as an employment center.

“Ridership should be growing, given the size of the area Metrolink serves,” Richard Katz, a former state legislator and longtime board member for the rail, told the newspaper. “Though we have been attracting riders, we’ve had a hard time holding on to them.”

The decline is occurring even though Metrolink has hired experienced marketing professionals, courted employers and tapped into Facebook and Twitter to reach tech-savvy millennials, the report said. Express service, new lines and specialty trains to ball games, rock concerts and the beach have been added. Safety has improved since the deadly Chatsworth crash in 2008, and equipping rail cars with WiFi is planned.

But Metrolink officials, transportation experts and commuters said in the report that those measures are working against wider factors that have steadily chipped away at the railroad’s ridership.

During the recession, the unemployment rate was 8 percent to 13 percent across the region and the number of annual boardings dropped from a peak of almost 12.33 million in 2008 to 11.14 million in 2011, according to the report.

By 2013, after more emphasis was placed on customer service and building ridership, annual boardings had recovered to almost 12.07 million. Since then, ridership has dropped to 11.74 million. The dip, along with rising costs for fuel, operations and safety projects, prompted the railroad to trim service this year and seek more money from the five county transportation agencies that help fund the line.

– City News Service

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