Before a strategy can be developed to improve how mass transit is funded, Metra Chairman Martin Oberman says the six counties in the region must work in a unified way.
"If we are going to have a fiscal strategy that is workable, we need to have as much support politically from our region as possible," Oberman said after meeting Tuesday with members of the DuPage County Board's ad hoc committee on mass transit.
Oberman, who was appointed last month to head the Metra board, said he hopes the state takes another look at how to fund mass transit agencies such as Metra. He said current funding levels simply aren't enough.
"We need to figure out a way so all of these agencies can get the funding we need (without) taking money out of each other's pockets," he said.
Oberman said mass transit needs to be viewed on a regional level because residents live and work across the region.
"You don't just have transportation for DuPage County or Lake County or the South Side of Chicago," he said.
DuPage County Board member Tonia Khouri, chairwoman of the county's ad hoc panel, said she agrees a regional approach is needed.
"I'm very encouraged about his practical ideas to get more funding," Khouri said.
In addition to the funding issue, Oberman highlighted several projects that should help improve service for Metra riders from DuPage.
The projects include new platforms at the Main Street station in Downers Grove, platform repairs in Villa Park and a planned pedestrian underpass and platform improvements in Lombard.
Metra also is hoping to get about $3 million for platform rehabilitation, station improvements and enhancements for handicapped accessibility at the West Chicago train station.
Oberman said Metra and the Union Pacific are working together to coordinate installation of a third track between Geneva and West Chicago on the Union Pacific West Line. He said the proposed project would help reduce delays caused by freight trains.
"There are more freight trains than there were 20 years ago, and the freight trains are longer," Oberman said. "So the opportunities for there to be freight delays are greater."
While Metra is "woefully short" of the cash it needs to upgrade its system, Oberman said the agency has set aside $115 million to rehab 176 of its passenger cars.
As part of the makeover, the passenger cars will get new washrooms, be more handicapped accessible and receive new electrical outlets so riders can power their laptops.
When asked by a county board member about the topic, Oberman said there is no plan to increase fares right now.
But he added it would be "irresponsible" to say Metra is never going to consider increasing fares.
"We provide a service," Oberman said. "We have to pay for the cost of the service. The cost of the service goes up, so fare increases have to be something that you have to consider."