Metrolink Funding Dispute and SB Line Service Cuts: Hold your elected representative accountable

"Public hearings" don't end here. We have elected officials to solve problems like this in a fair and just manner; we can and should petition them anytime something serious comes up.

© Justin Nelson CC-BY-SA

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

A funding dispute between Metrolink and the San Bernardino Associated Governments has placed the Metrolink San Bernardino Line into fiscal trouble. The disagreement has led to the proposal and Metrolink Board approval of the cancellation of one midday and one late evening/night trip in each direction--4 trains cut from the San Bernardino Line effective October 1st should this dispute not be resolved beforehand. The affected lines are 310, 327, 338, and 339.

What on Earth caused this to happen? I'll do what I can to give you a straight analysis with more details to come next week.

The Funding Dispute

When the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (a.k.a. Metrolink) requested SANBAG for its contribution toward the railroad's FY 2014/2015 budget, the SANBAG Board of Directors voted to adopt the following on June 4th, 2014:

Financial Commitment to the Southern California Regional Rail (6/4 SANBAG Board Agenda Pg. 189)
Authority for Fiscal Year 2014/2015 That the Board of Directors:
  1. Approve Fiscal Year 2014/2015 operating assistance allocation of $11,804,830 in Valley Local Transportation Funds to the Southern California Regional Rail Authority. This is an increase of 3% from the Fiscal Year 2013/2014 operating allocation.
  2. Provide direction to the Southern California Regional Rail Authority staff that budget cuts required as a result of Recommendation #1 above, shall not come at the expense of reduced service.
  3. Approve Fiscal Year 201412015 capital assistance allocation of $5,232,400 in Federal Transit Administration 5337 funds with local match to be funded from Toll Credits.
  4. Approve Fiscal Year 2014/2015 Rotem car reimbursement of $1,000,000 in Federal Transportation Administration 5337 funds and $1,391,782 in Federal Transportation Administration 5309 fixed guide-ways to the Southern California Regional Rail Authority for costs associated with the purchase of Rotem cars originally funded by Orange County Transportation Authority, per the reimbursement plan approved by the Board of Directors on July 10, 2013.
This item was reviewed and recommended for approval with a quorum of the Board present at the Board of Directors Metro Valley Study Session on May 15,2014. Recommendations #1 and #2 were reviewed and recommended for approval (12-4-1; Opposed: McCallon, Rigsby, Eaton and Aguilar; Abstained: Rutherford). Recommendations #3 and #4 were reviewed and unanimously recommended for approval.

The issue at stake is the FY 2014/2015 Metrolink budget totals $273 million, consisting of $222.9 million for operations and $50.1 million for infrastructure projects. SANBAG's subsidy was billed at $12,467,000 for operations and $7,624,182 for capital/rehabilitation. SANBAG staff recommended with the Board's blessing that it pay $11,805,000 for operations and $7,624,182 for infrastructure which adds up to a 3% increase over last year's budget as opposed to an 8.8% increase requested by SCRRA.

What I find interesting was Recommendation 2 which provided direction to SCRRA staff not to cut service. But that's not what's happening. Here's Metrolink's response according its 7/11/14 Board Agenda:

As a result of the San Bernardino Associated Govern ments (SANBAG) Board decision to limit the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (Authority) FY2014-15 operating subsidy budget to a 3% increase, the Board needs to consider service reduction on the San Bernardino Line in order to comply with this limitation. Staff recommends the Board:
1) Conduct a public hearing on the service reduction on the San Bernardino Line.
2) Find and declare that a fiscal emergency exists under the California Public Resources Code (PRC) 21080.32.
3) Upon conclusion of the public hearing, make a finding that the service reduction as included in the FY2014-15 Budget is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) because there exists a fiscal emergency caused by the failure of anticipated Authority budgeted operating revenue to adequately fund the budgeted operating expenses.
4) Approve the following service reduction to be effective on or about October 1, 2014, representing four trains on the San Bernardino Line:
(1) Train 310 with a scheduled weekday departure from Los Angeles Union Station at 12:20 pm
(2) Train 327 with a scheduled weekday departure from San Bernardino Station at 2:00pm
(3) Train 339 with a scheduled weekday departure from San Bernardino Station at 9:05pm
(4) Train 338 with a scheduled weekday departure from Los Angeles Union Station at 11:00pm

Those proposals passed and there was no dissent from the Metrolink Board on this. There's some more important data that I need to weed out of both agenda packets of which I'll go through next week. There's a bunch of hard facts that must be included in this intense debate but I will say that tearing apart the Metrolink San Bernardino Line and cutting into the gains it has accumulated ever since its dawning back in the 90's is not an answer. As the economy and development ticks back up, that line should be operating every hour midday with 30 minute headways later down the road with an early morning to late night service span. Getting to the bottom of government waste needs to be included in the discussion which will require local leaders to lobby for spending reforms at the state level.

Transportation Tip: Write to your elected official who sits on the Board of Directors of both agencies and is supposed to represent you. Hold him/her accountable of leading the way out of this mess in a fair and just manner. Demand better leadership and real solutions that won't tear apart our regional rail system. Yes, Metrolink's public comment period of the cuts was short, has legally closed and was approved. But remember that "public hearings" never close here. Nor do they when it comes to petitioning your representative to solve ongoing problems like this one. If leaders are pressured to draw up a better solution to this fiscal dispute, we can save these four trains from the chopping block. Always remember that if your elected officials do not solve problems in a fair and just way that is best for the Inland Empire, exercise your right to vote.

As we head into the weekend, let's end on a bright side. In contrast to the San Bernardino Line drama, the Metrolink 91 Line which runs in between Riverside Downtown and Los Angeles via Fullerton has some very desirable service increases which took place on July 5. More specifically, two weekend roundtrips! Two trains will depart the Inland Empire in the morning from Riverside to LAUS through north Orange County. One train will return mid afternoon, and one in the evening. The 91 Line is also the route that will be used for the Perris Valley Line extension through Perris, which is now under construction. Metrolink offers a Weekend Day Pass for $10 allowing a passenger to ride anytime, anywhere systemwide on Saturday or Sunday.

Enjoy the weekend and we'll return to this intense debate next week.