Despite objections, Metra leaders raised fares on 10-ride passes by 11 percent Friday, effective Feb. 1, 2013.
The hike follows on the heels of a 30 percent increase in 10-ride passes instituted this February.
“I have not seen sufficient justification for a fare increase,” said Director Mike McCoy, who represents Kane County. He cast the one vote against the change.
Board Vice Chairman Jack Partelow of Naperville said the decision was painful but necessary.
“We had to,” he said. “There comes a time when you have to face up to our needs.”
The action should guarantee about $8 million more a year of which $2 million will go to the operating budget and $6 million intended for capital projects. The agency faces a significant shortfall for infrastructure such as track repair and new train cars.
“It’s difficult but it’s imperative the state of good repair get accomplished,” Director and Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder said. “For years, there’s been a trend to take capital money to support operations. The clear message, too, after our large increase was that our riders said ‘we’d prefer small increases.’”
McCoy disagreed. “Last year, I went along with the very large rate increase and I said I wouldn’t do it again until going forward we see a budget policy that ties fare increases to some type of market-driven formula.
“If we have to fill a budget hole and we’re going to pick out a quarter of our ridership to fill it with — I’d like to see a demographic breakdown. If we have a hole we have to fill — I’d rather fill it across the board and share the pain rather than pick out a group.”
Metra CEO Alex Clifford said the change means 10-ride users will pay full fare instead of getting the rides for the price of nine. Administrators estimate 10-ride users comprised one-quarter of all riders.
“I’d wanted to bring us in parallel with our peer agencies ... that have taken multi-ride tickets up to the full price recognizing it’s a convenience tool not a discount tool,” Clifford said. He added that further increases had been anticipated but cost-cutting had prevented additional hikes.
The pass increases would range from $2.75 for a short distance to $9.25 for a long trip. A 10-ride pass between Union Station and Lisle, for example, now costs $47.25. It would go to $52.50. A pass good for trips from Chicago to Harvard that costs $83.25 would jump to $92.50.
Metra monthly passes still offer about a 28 percent discount and that rewards the agency’s “most loyal riders,” Clifford said.
Some of the preliminary discussions about the budget and fare increase scenarios were conducted during ad hoc committee meetings that weren’t open to the public. Asked about the closed-door meetings, officials said the group wasn’t a standing committee and consisted of three members, less than a quorum, and followed Illinois Open Meetings Act provisions. Clifford also noted that numerous public hearings were held on the budget.
Chairman Brad O’Halloran said changes in committee structure approved Friday will establish four standing committees and result in more public involvement. “We think going forward this process will be much more transparent and out in the public,” he said.
With the fare hike, Clifford promised train cars would be cleaner, explaining riders had requested that in a recent survey.
To prevent stockpiling, 10-ride passes purchased from Nov. 17 to Jan. 31 will only be good for travel until the end of February.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.