I Would Ride Trains More if they Went More Places May 13th, 2012
Opinion By Noel T. Braymer
I would love to ride trains more often, but I literally can’t because I can’t get there by train. For example I can take Metrolink from Oceanside to San Bernardino once a day leaving Oceanside at 4:20 PM. I would have to leave San Bernardino at 4:48 AM the next day to get back by 7:15 AM. I can catch a train to Riverside from Oceanside at 7:30 AM and to Orange at 2:47 PM and connect from both in under an hour to trains to San Bernardino. I don’t expect to see more direct trains service between Oceanside and San Bernardino anytime soon. But with improved bus connections we can open new markets to existing trains and future trains on existing routes at little capital costs. There are bottlenecks to adding more trains between Oceanside and Orange County as well as more trains to San Bernardino from Orange County. But you can add connecting buses to existing rail lines and increase ridership. Convenience or lack there of is a major factor for rail ridership. Few things make taking the train more convenient than more frequent service to more places.
In California connecting buses have been used successfully for years to add riders to the San Joaquin, Capitol Corridor and Pacific Surfliner Trains. These services sponsored by Caltrans and operated under Amtrak management must break even or better. Under LOSSAN we will see joint schedules of Pacific Surfliner, Metrolink and Coaster Trains showing how they connect with each other. As part of this scheduling the connections between services are being improved. This will include connections between Amtrak Thruway Buses and Metrolink and Coaster. There are other services I can think of that would benefit with new bus connections
One place I think many people besides myself would love to take the train to is the airport. In San Diego there is a bus connection downtown at the train station to the airport. It is basically a local city bus which makes several stops on its way to to the airport and its schedule isn’t in sync with Coaster or Amtrak trains. There are plans in the future to build a Coaster/HSR train station at the airport. In the meantime I would love a shuttle bus at the Old Town Trolley-Coaster-Amtrak Station to the airport with more Coaster service. On the train you go past the airport going downtown and then backtrack to get to the airport. Old Town is close to the airport and more direct for Coaster, Amtrak and Green Line Trolley passengers. Shuttle bus service at Old Town 7 days a week to the airport would get many more riders than the existing bus connection which only works if you are coming from downtown. What is needed to really serve airports by rail are trains that run when airports are most busy. This is usually in the early morning roughly from 6 to 8 AM, mid day roughly from Noon until 2 PM and evening from roughly 6 to 8 PM. For trains to best serve passengers they need to get people to the airport at least an hour before morning planes leave and leave up to an hour after the last evening planes land.
On Metrolink I think the same thing happens. There are bus connections to John Wayne Airport at Metrolink Stations in Orange County. But I know I would be more likely to think about using Metrolink or Amtrak to John Wayne if I saw buses waiting by the platform painted as shuttle bus to John Wayne. Go to any major airport and you see colorfully painted shuttle buses clearly saying which rental car, hotel or parking lot they are going. Having shuttle buses to Ontario Airport would be a good idea to get more people to fly out of Ontario by taking Metrolink. This doesn’t have to be fancy. Bob Hope Airport has used a commercial van service to carry passengers from the Downtown Burbank Metrolink Station to the airport.
This brings up the BIG airport LAX. The Flyaway Bus from LAUS to LAX is doing very well. The jury is still out on the Flyaway Bus from Irvine to LAX. It may still need some adjustments to really catch on. One market that is ignored are the many people who are going near the LAX but are not flying to or from LAX. LAX is a second downtown in Los Angeles. Many people work near LAX and people often have business near or at the airport. Flyaway service isn’t designed for these travelers. What I would like to see would be a LAX bus that would shuttle between Van Nuys and Norwalk. But it wouldn’t go into LAX but to a transit center with direct service to LAX. It would also connect with transit at the Green Line, Blue Line and Expo Line. People riding on Metrolink and Amtrak would have much greater access to the West Los Angeles region with such a bus serving the San Fernando Valley from the North and rail service from the east at Norwalk to get to the Westside of Los Angeles. Much of this can be done running buses on HOV lanes on the Century and San Diego Freeways to avoid crowded freeway traffic.
Ventura County has Metrolink and Amtrak service but it has large gaps in service. Some Metrolink Trains stop in Chatsworth or Moorpark and don’t go all the way to Oxnard. Plus Ventura County doesn’t have the money other counties in Southern California have for expanding rail service. What could be done is run connecting buses in Ventura County to extend service as far as Ventura by bus from existing trains. This would be handy if with double tracking extended from Van Nuys to Chatsworth we see more Chatsworth trains we can have more service as far as Ventrura. I am writing about Southern California because that is what I am most familiar with. But I’m sure many of the same problems exist elsewhere in the State. There are many towns in the San Joaquin Valley without direct connections to the San Joaquins. I’m sure there are places like airports or rail transit that would be better connected by buses to Caltrain or ACE..