Zoning out? Metra consultants to rethink fare structure

For Metra regulars, it's as simple as ABC. You pay to travel from Zone F in the suburbs to Zone A in the Loop every morning. In the late afternoon, you do the reverse.

That familiar fare structure could change subject to the results of a study Metra embarked on Wednesday. Board directors agreed to pay up to $315,300 to Four Nines Technologies, a California-based firm, to analyze existing fares, compare the system with other transit agencies and recommend improvements.

Everything is on the table, Executive Director Don Orseno said.

"What are the best practices? Do we have too many zones? Do we have too few? Should we even have zones?" he asked.

"It could be one fare like the CTA, where you get on and pay one fare regardless of where you're going. (Metra's system) is different because we travel a lot of miles; in some cases you could go 60 miles."

Currently, riders pay more the farther they travel. For example, a monthly pass between Chicago and Brookfield is $138. A monthly pass from Chicago to Naperville is $187.75.

Another possibility could be congestion pricing, where riders pay more to travel during rush hour and less during slow periods.

The study will also examine the types of tickets Metra offers. Now, those include monthly and 10-ride passes, one-way fares and weekend passes with deals for families.

Asked if fares would go up as a result, Orseno said the focus of the study was to increase ridership.

Metra riders will be consulted and have a chance to comment during the study, Orseno said. "We don't want to do this in a vacuum."

Four Nines Technologies has worked with transit agencies in: St. Louis; San Antonio; Houston; Orange County, California; Madison County, Illinois; and Portland, Oregon.

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