Metra’s Board is preparing to raise fares for the fourth consecutive year. If you are feeling railroaded, you are probably not alone. After all, the average commuter also likely has been dealing with increased income taxes, property taxes, a new beverage tax in Cook County and the introduction of a plastic bag tax in Chicago.
That’s a lot of increases in a short time frame. Over the past four years, for example, a monthly pass on Metra has increased nearly 34 percent from $135.25 to the proposed fare of $181.25 from zone A to zone D.
Metra will present the fare increases along with its budget at its next board meeting on October 6th. Board meetings are public and you have the opportunity to offer public comment.
Here’s some background and the history behind Metra’s fare increases as well as information on how you can voice your concerns:
How much will your fare increase?
You can use the application below to see how your fare will change.
The increase in fares is predicted to raise an additional $17 million in revenue. At the same time it released its proposed fare increase, Metra announced it had also identified $8 million in spending cuts and savings including lower utility costs, a proposed hiring freeze, less advertising costs, and cuts to service worth $3 million.
Metra's 10-year plan
Metra has planned to increase fares. In 2014, Metra put in motion a $2.4 billion “modernization plan” to buy 367 new coach cars, rebuild 85 train engines, and buy 52 new train engines, all by 2024. The agency planned 10 years of fare hikes to pay for the plan. In addition, the plan called for borrowing $400 million and getting an additional $1.3 billion in state and federal funding.
According to the modernization plan’s fare schedule, Metra would have increased 2018 fare revenues this year by 4 percent.
However, Metra officials said that due to the Illinois budget impasse between 2015 and 2017, the full implementation of its modernization plan was put on hold. The state cut back funding for Metra and did not pass a bill for construction spending, known as a capital program, needed for funding.
What's happening now?
Instead, Metra has followed a much smaller program of rebuilding its current stock of train cars and engines. According to a Metra press release, between 2014 and 2017, Metra rebuilt 115 cars and 25 train engines. Metra has a total of 850 cars and 150 engines and the agency said it will continue to rebuild with time and funding. It also has a plan to buy 25 new cars and 10 new engines.
Although Metra has put a hold on the bigger modernization program, officials argue it still needs a fare increase due to the agency’s budget deficit, partly as a result of decreased state funding. Metra provided three reasons for increasing fares:
The state’s recently passed budget included a 10 percent cut to a fund used to partially match regional sales tax collections and a 2 percent state surcharge for collecting regional taxes.
Lower gas prices, lower vehicle sales, and an increase in online shopping have decreased sales tax collections.
Increases in personnel costs and inflation.
What can you do?
Metra will be presenting a preliminary budget with the proposed fare increase at 9 a.m. Oct. 6th at 547 West Jackson Blvd on the 13th Floor. There also will be a series of public hearings on the proposed budget. The board will vote to finalize the budget, with the fare increases, at its Nov. 10th meeting.
In order to speak, you must fill out a Metra public comment form (provided to you at the meeting or accessed here). The total time for public comments is 30 minutes and each speaker is allotted 3 minutes at most. The order is first come, first served.
Other transit agencies also have raised fares; however, comparing fare increases across different transit agencies -- with unique infrastructure and funding structures -- is complicated.
Still, an increase in fares no matter the justification always is a tough pill to swallow, particularly when commuters, like those shown below, do not perceive improvements in service.
Metra also is reliant upon state and federal dollars. If you want to know where your legislative officials stand on funding Metra and other transit agencies, or if you’d like to offer your thoughts and concerns, you can find their contact information at the following links:
Editor's Note: This post was updated on Nov. 14, 2017 to reflect changes in the final cut amounts the Metra board approved on Nov. 10, 2017.