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updated: 10/6/2017 7:24 PM

Metra's doomsday budget includes fare hikes, service cuts

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  • Metra commuters could see reduced service on some routes in 2018 as a result of the agency's proposed doomsday budget.

      Metra commuters could see reduced service on some routes in 2018 as a result of the agency's proposed doomsday budget.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Metra board members on Friday discussed service cuts coupled with fare increases as part of the agency's 2018 budget.

      Metra board members on Friday discussed service cuts coupled with fare increases as part of the agency's 2018 budget.
    Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

 
 

Metra commuters could see reduced service in 2018 on the Milwaukee North Line and the North Central Service among other routes through the suburbs as a result of the agency's proposed doomsday budget.

Riders also could see fare increases of up to 12.6 percent, administrators said at a Friday meeting.

If approved by directors in November, the increase would be the fourth consecutive fare hike since 2015.

The agency faces a $45 million shortfall in 2018, officials said.

"We are in the worst financial crisis for transit in Chicago since horse cars started operating" in the 1800s, Chairman Norman Carlson said.

On the Milwaukee North Line, which runs between Fox Lake and Chicago, service would scale back to 20 trips instead of 24 on Saturdays and 18 trains instead of 20 on Sunday.

On the North Central Line between Antioch and Chicago, two rush-hour trains would be eliminated and rolled into two other semi-express trains in the morning and afternoon.

Service will also be reduced on the Southwest Service and Rock Island Line.

The cuts could extend to the BNSF and Union Pacific Lines, which are operated in partnership with the two freight railroads, Carlson said.

"Every single one of the lines is going to be looked at," incoming Executive Director James Derwinski said. But "if it doesn't make sense to reduce it we're not going to do it."

With fares, 10-ride passes would jump between 8 percent and 12.6 percent and monthly passes would spike 4 percent to 8.4 percent.

That means someone traveling between downtown Chicago and Arlington Heights or Lisle would pay $64.25 for a 10-ride pass, an increase of $5.75, and $195.75 for a monthly fare, an increase of $10.50. Higher fares will generate $17 million.

Riders interviewed at Union Station in Chicago were not happy.

"Haven't they just increased the fares?" asked Eva Flis, a Milwaukee North Line commuter.

Also affected would be reduced fares for seniors and people with disabilities. Those monthly passes would increase between 4 percent and 14 percent and 10-ride passes would rise between 5 percent and 21 percent. Donald Lippo of Fox Lake, who uses reduced fares, worried the change "would affect my budget."

The agency is facing declining sales tax revenues, plus cuts and fees from the state totaling a $15 million loss.

"This model isn't sustainable," Chief Financial Officer Tom Farmer said.

Expenses are growing by $30 million including an average 3 percent increase for labor, Farmer said. The agency does not have a hiring freeze in place but is not and will not be filling certain positions. No layoffs are planned.

Not replacing staff members ultimately undercuts Metra because qualified people leave, Director John Plante of Wilmette said, adding Metra is a "Cadillac not a Chevy."

Compared to other commuter railroads, Metra charges riders less, Director Ken Koehler of Crystal Lake said. "We can't create funding through osmosis."

Weekend passes would increase from $8 to $10 but would start on Friday evening in addition to Saturday and Sunday.

"That's ridiculous," said commuter Mike McKinney.

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