After the sticker shock of a 10.8 percent fare hike in 2015, many Metra commuters seemed resigned to a smaller increase that goes into effect today.
But they want their money's worth. And that means on-time trains and limited delays, riders said.
"I wouldn't mind the fare increase if it went to fix things that would actually improve performance like upgrading signals and switches," Terry Tallian of Wood Dale told me last week. "If they need the dollars, they're going to get it," Union Pacific Northwest Line commuter Matt Lindborg said to staff photographer Bob Chwedyk Friday. "The train's got to run."
"I don't appreciate it," Arlington Heights rider Clay Allison said, referencing the 1 percent to 7.7 percent spike. "Especially since service hasn't improved at all ... the train's late almost every day."
Metra leaders counter that the move is aimed at fixing those irritations.
Starting with 2015 and 2016, leaders project a decade of higher ticket prices to help pay for a $2.4 billion modernization. The railroad intends to buy new railcars and locomotives and rehab existing ones, with the promise that the improvements will deliver reliable, faster and more comfortable trains.
Trains were on-time in December by about 96 percent, officials said.
Metra is "adhering to a plan we adopted a year and a half ago to try and put Metra's financial position in as sound a condition as we can," Chairman Martin Oberman said. "We've cut costs wherever we can to keep expenses down to a minimum and we lowered the fare increase we originally projected."
Here's more about the changes:
• Fares go up by 25 cents for one-way tickets, $1.75 for 10-ride passes and $2.50 for monthly pass holders.
• Metra used to slap an expiry date on 10-ride and one-way tickets purchased before fare increases to discourage hoarding. That's not the case now -- your 10-rides and one-ways won't die such an early death. One-ways are good for 90 days and 10-rides for a year.
• Reduced fare 10-ride tickets for seniors and others will increase by 75 cents and by $1.25 for monthly passes.
Jason Manola, who rides from Villa Park on the Milwaukee West Line, had mixed feelings.
"I was a little annoyed by the upcoming fare hike, but I realized it's only like a $2.50 increase (a month)," he said.
"However, the cost of a Metra ticket has become more burdensome as the cost comes directly out of my pocket. To Metra's credit, their service has become much better and I haven't experienced many problems lately."
The bottom line
Will seats with higher backs, cupholders and armrests soften riders up? Metra is gradually introducing new blue and gray seats in 30 older Amerail cars it's rehabbing throughout the year on all routes except the Electric Line.
One shocker for Metra traditionalists may be that the seats can't reverse. About half will face backward and half forward with some groupings of four seats that face each other.
Riders will be asked to give feedback before the railroad purchases more.
Got an opinion on Metra fares or chairs? Drop me a line at email@example.com.
Wait, there's more!
Forget gray skies, road salt and slush for a while. Think road trips and horsepower as the Chicago Auto Show vrooms into town Feb. 13 to 21, at McCormick Place. And we have free tickets. Send an email with your name and address explaining what car you want to see this year and why, and you could win a pair.
Last week's series on red-light camera crashes struck a nerve with Eugene Luzwick. The Wheeling resident has received two tickets "for not stopping when I have made right-turn-on-red turns. Both times the video showed my brake lights on with about a three-second interval," Luzwick wrote.
"I have appealed both times and both have been denied. That is where the money is being made. You get a ticket in the mail and there is no way you can win it."
Route 64 throwdown
Do you love or hate traveling on North Avenue in west Cook County? Here's your chance to vent and/or suggest improvements by participating in a survey sponsored by Cook County, Pace and the Regional Transportation Authority. Find out more at northavenuecorridorstudy.com.
Watch out for overnight lane closures to make way for Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) bridge construction this week in Elk Grove Village and Des Plaines. Starting at 6 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, expect one lane in each direction to close on Busse Road at I-90; full road closures at 15-minute intervals will last from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. All should return to normal by 6 a.m. The same scenario is scheduled for Thursday and Friday on Mount Prospect Road at I-90.