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updated: 10/12/2012 4:50 PM

Will Metra prices go up again?

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  • Alex Clifford

      Alex Clifford

  • Mike McCoy

      Mike McCoy

  • Arlene Mulder

      Arlene Mulder

 
 

After weathering fare hikes of up to 30 percent to pay for operating costs in February, Metra riders might be hit with an increase again.

This time, the jump could range from 1 percent to 10 percent with the money intended for capital projects.

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Metra administrators did not go into details about the proposed changes at a meeting Friday, saying riders should attend upcoming hearings in November to learn more.

Several Metra directors seemed tepid about the idea. The board took no action on the preliminary 2013 budget.

"I'm not for any type of fare increase," said Director Mike McCoy, former Kane County Board chairman.

"My position is not to have a fare increase," Acting Chairman Larry Huggins of Chicago said.

"I think hopefully we can do without a fare increase," Director and Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder said.

Metra administrators did not elaborate on the fare increase scenarios but provided board members with documents describing three alternatives. In each case, the operating budget, which pays for salaries and supplies among other things, is set at $713.5 million, an increase from 2012's $686.8 million.

The difference comes in how much would be allocated for capital needs, which could include new train cars or improvements to stations and track.

One option is leaving fares as they are. A second would increase fares by 1 percent and a third involves a 10 percent hike. Changes to 10-ride and monthly passes are among the proposals.

Some board directors said they could accept a minor jump.

"I would be for it if it's very small," Director Jack Partelow of Naperville said.

"There may be some wisdom in doing some small stuff," Director Jack Schaffer of Cary said, noting the board took heat for not increasing rates slowly over the years, then implementing a big hike.

One option apparently not on the table is cutting service, said Metra Chief Financial Officer Tom Farmer, noting that riders and board directors had opposed that alternative in 2011.

Metra administrators said the agency has more than a $5 billion shortfall for capital needs over 10 years. Delaying repairs and replacing equipment will only cost the agency more and hurt service, they said.

Executive Director Alex Clifford told the board the agency is falling behind in terms of installing a Positive Train Control system because of the prohibitive costs and lack of capital funding. Positive Train Control uses technology to warn engineers when a collision is imminent and the federal government has required commuter and major private railways to implement it by Dec. 31, 2015.

"I'm sad we're spending so much money on this," Director Jim LaBelle of Lake County said, adding he doubted it would have a significant impact on riders.

"I believe it is a good tool for this system," Clifford said, noting that the technology could have prevented previous accidents. He said Metra is working with Gov. Pat Quinn's office to try and secure aid.

This February, the average rate hike was 15.7 percent, but 10-ride and monthly pass holders faced bigger hits of 30 percent and 29 percent, respectively.

Public hearings are scheduled for 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 1 at the Kane County Government Center in Geneva and Crystal Lake City Hall, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 7 at Wheaton City Hall and Arlington Heights Village Hall, and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 8 at Grayslake Village Hall and New Lenox Village Hall.

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