Metra passengers this week offered a heated response to a proposed 10.8 percent fare increase earmarked to help fund the commuter rail agency’s capital improvement plan.
Tuesday’s public hearing at Homewood Village Hall was peppered with criticism of Metra – and especially the Electric Line – for steadily increasing ticket costs while not providing amenities to local riders that are commonplace on other rail lines.
“I’ve been an Electric Line commuter for 15 years,” said Homewood resident Pamela Jackson. ”It’s unacceptable to raise fares year after year. We don’t reap any of the benefits of those fare increases.”
Jackson said stations along the Electric line are in “horrible condition” and that commuters along the system are being shortchanged. She said she was “totally opposed” to the fare hike.
“I believe you treat us like second-class citizens,” Jackson said. “There are no amenities along the Electric Line compared to other stations” along other Metra lines. “Why is that OK?”
Lynn Corrao, Metra’s director of governmental affairs, agreed with Jackson that the Calumet station is “desperately” in need of renovation and said work should begin at that station and at Hazel Crest next spring, after the renovation of the Flossmoor station is completed.
The November 5 hearing was one of eight conducted by Metra around the Chicago area this week. Metra is accepting additional comments by e-mail before 4 pm on Friday, November 7, at [email protected].
Metra board members are poised to approve the rate hike at their November 14 meeting. Under state law, Metra must submit its budget for next year to the Regional Transportation Agency by November 15. If approved, the fare increase will go into effect next February 1. Adult monthly tickets from Homewood and Flossmoor to Millennium Station would increase to $171 (from $149.50). Ten ride tickets would increase to $54 (from $52.50) and a single ticket to $6 (from $5.25).
Under the new budget, Metra is restoring a discount on 10-ride tickets that was eliminated in 2013. The 10-ride ticket would be priced at the cost of nine one-way fares.
Metra will use a portion of the fare increase to cover debt service on a $100 million bond issue, the first in the agency’s history. The financing will be used to help fund a $2.4 billion modernization plan. Metra expects its expenses to grow by $51.5 million next year, which includes $18.5 million for increased labor costs and expenses related to aging equipment. The Electric Line is phasing in 160 new cars; Corrao said about half are already in service and three or four additional cars are being added each month.
Some support for rate hike
Not all the comments at Tuesday’s hearing were critical of the fare increase.
Jamal Powell, a 20-year Metra rider from University Park, said the fare increase is the best way to provide much needed improvements to the Electric Line. “For too long, there have been issues with Metra’s capital needs. They have been kicking that can down the road for years.”
The fare increase will prevent the system from sinking into further disrepair, he said.
The Chicago South Suburban Mass Transit District, which operates parking lots along the Electric Line, presented a statement in favor of the fare increases.
“The district agrees with Metra’s strategy to acknowledge the anticipated costs to overcome years of deferred maintenance and to plan on potential fare increases necessary to pay for this deferred maintenance,” said Richard Anderson of Matteson, the agency’s treasurer.
Pricing itself out of business?
But most of the comments blasted the fare increase as unfair to commuters who are already financially challenged in difficult economic times.
Natalyn Williams said she boards the Electric Line in University Park for Chicago, then gets on a CTA train to get to her job in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Under the proposed fare hike, her monthly ticket will go up to $199.50 – and that will just cover the Metra portion of her commute.
“I can’t afford this,” Williams said. “This fare hike is just not feasible for a lot of people. The cost of everything is going up. We get little 1 percent pay increases and that doesn’t help (pay for the fare increase). This is not a good idea. There must be another way.”
Metra Fare Hike Plan Draws Little Outrage At Public Hearing (CBS Chicago)
Metra riders oppose fare increase during public hearing (Kane County Chronicle)
Riders at Metra hearing question 11% fare increase (Chicago Sun-Times)
Metra budget, modernization plan and fare increase information
Contact Tom Houlihan at [email protected]