Monday, November 7, 2016

Editorial: Riding the Rails

When I was a freshman in college over a decade ago, Metrolink and I became well acquainted. It was an easy way to get from the small town where my school was, which fortunately had a stop, and the Inland Empire or Downtown LA. The trains were reasonably comfortable, seeing as they were intended for commuters making the daily slog to their jobs in the city, and the ridership during the weekend tended to be largely students going home or the occasional tourist who opted not to rent a car. The trip duration could tend to be on the long side and since rail infrastructure in Southern California is not exactly well developed, once I reached the end of the line, it could take a fair amount of planning to actually reach my final destination. Being a poor college student at the time, that often meant the "last mile" portion of my trip was either another form of public transit or an awful lot of walking. However, after I got a car my sophomore year, I pretty much have never set foot on Metrolink again...until yesterday.

Searching for a reasonably priced method to make it down to San Diego county, the idea of Metrolink came to mind because it has a station in the city of Oceanside, less then 20 miles from my target destination. A quick poke around the Metrolink website revealed that a weekend one-day pass is merely $10 and had unlimited on-off privileges, meaning if the deal did not go as planned, I still had a easy way to get back to the LA area. Using Uber to get the final 20 miles from the Oceanside transit station to my final destination would cost nearly three times the cost of covering the 60 odd miles from Orange to Oceanside.

So I downloaded the Metrolink app first thing in the morning to purchase a ticket. Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones, this process has gotten significantly easier with the ability to store and maintain tickets on the phone without needing a paper ticket at all. While Metrolink, like nearly all of LA's transit rail infrastructure, operates on a largely honor system with light enforcement, the addition of a smartphone app allowing riders to purchase tickets on the fly is a huge improvement in the passenger experience. It means being able to catch the train without needing to stand in front of a punishingly slow kiosk waiting for it to print a ticket.

Once on board the largely empty train, I grabbed a seat and stretched out, allowing myself plenty of room to get comfortable for the hour and a half trip. Had I driven, with traffic on the 5 freeway, I very likely would have spent nearly the same time and my head would have likely exploded from screaming at the idiotic drivers I frequently find myself sharing the roads with. Instead, I am able to relax, pull out my phone and do some work, all while the train serenely makes its way through Orange County and out to the coast. It is here that I get to enjoy a solid half an hour or more of the trip watching azure blue waters of the Pacific Ocean dance by the train windows. So much better than slogging along in traffic on the freeway.

For a measly $10, I could easily imagine myself taking Metrolink on the weekends to adventures in all manners of places. Considering that to drive down to Oceanside in even our relatively efficient 34-mpg Honda Accord would mean around 4-gallons of gas round trip and that is without sitting in any traffic or at any traffic lights, low cost and relative ease of use may mean I am willing to reacquaint myself with Metrolink in the future. Even more importantly, I see it as a good means for exploring some very specific parts of Southern California and could be a cost effective option that perhaps more people should consider.

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