Why Improving Transit Equity and Serving New Customers Are Key to the Metrolink Mission
SEARCH METROLINK NEWS
By Darren Kettle
Metrolink has been part of my life for more than 30 years. I grew up in the Inland Empire, and I was involved in the launch of Metrolink in 1992 when I started my career as a public servant in local government. I was a Metrolink rider then, and I remain a committed rider today as the agency’s CEO.
But Southern California has changed dramatically in the thirty years since I first started using Metrolink — and the profile of our ridership has also changed. This isn’t your father’s or your grandfather’s commuter rail, and we need to adjust our service to meet the changing needs of our community. Last Sunday, we commemorated Transit Equity Day with free rides across the Metrolink system. Transit equity is a guiding factor for our work as we make changes to serve today’s Metrolink customers.
As we think about the future of transit in Southern California, we’re doing so at the intersection of two unprecedented crises. The COVID-19 pandemic completely changed the way we work, and the meaning of the commute will never be the same. The vast majority of our commuters are no longer going into their downtown offices five days a week; they’re going into the office two to three times a week, if they leave their home offices at all.
At the same time, our riders are dealing with a long-term housing and cost of living crisis. Southern Californians are moving farther and farther away from downtown LA in search of affordable housing, but the existing service schedule for most transit services doesn’t meet their needs in terms of commuting into work or visiting the city.
Last fall, we expanded service on our Antelope Valley Line — increasing midday, late night and weekend service for our riders in the Antelope, Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys. We believe this type of service expansion represents the future of Metrolink: evolving from a commuter rail service to a regional rail network that increases transit equity and meets the needs of our riders today and in years to come.
A Community in Need of Reliable Rail Service
We know the LA stereotypes — everyone in Southern California gets where they need to go by car. Yet the demographics of our Antelope Valley Line ridership show that stereotypes aren’t always accurate: more than 40% of residents don’t have access to a car, and the average household income for these passengers is just over $40,000. Metrolink is an essential service for these customers.
Our efforts to increase transit equity make mobility more accessible for low-income riders across the region. Metrolink’s Mobility-4-All program offers a 50% discount to riders with a California EBT card, while our Student Adventure Pass pilot makes it possible for anyone with a student ID to use our system for free. Metrolink also offers everyday discounts for children, seniors, active military members, and riders with disabilities. Each of these programs improves transit equity — but we have the potential to do so much more.
A widespread expansion of Metrolink service would dramatically improve mobility for low-income Metrolink riders, opening up new opportunities to work, visit friends and family, and take advantage of everything our region has to offer. Transit equity shouldn’t be limited to traditional commuting hours — increasing evening, midday and weekend service gives our riders the flexibility they need to improve their quality of life.
Time for Bold Vision in Southern California
Our region is changing.
Southern Californians are responding to the ongoing housing crisis by moving farther away from downtown areas, and the ways in which they work are more flexible and unpredictable than ever before. Low-income riders already rely on public transit to get to and from their destinations, and that service will only become more important as they spread out further from the center of Los Angeles.
We need a comprehensive regional rail service that meets the needs of all Southern Californians. If not now, when?
Expanded service can help us improve transit equity and unlock new opportunities for today’s Metrolink customer, whether that’s the young woman in El Monte visiting her mother in Fontana, the shift worker coming back late from their job in Burbank, or the university student exploring Los Angeles on a Saturday afternoon. We presented our vision for the next fiscal year to our board of directors in January, and we’re excited about the potential to deliver a more convenient and frequent train service for our customers across the region.
Darren Kettle is Chief Executive Officer of Metrolink. A California native, Kettle has more than 30 years of experience with local and regional government agencies. Before joining Metrolink in September of 2021, he was the Executive Director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission (VCTC) for 14 years. Previously, Kettle was with the San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG) from 2000 through 2007. Early in his SANBAG tenure, Kettle was Director of Intergovernmental and Legislative Affairs for both SANBAG and the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC).