Metra increases fares for third straight year

Metra board directors Friday approved raising fares by an average of 5.8 percent in 2017.

Only one of the 10 Metra directors, Martin Oberman of Chicago, voted against the hikes.

Riders will pay $2.75 more for a 10-ride ticket and $11.75 more for a monthly pass. Salary increases, new safety technology, and equipment replacement are causing the spike, directors said.

The increase that goes into effect Feb. 1, 2017, means fares have shot up by about 18.6 percent cumulatively since early 2015. In February 2015, Metra instituted a 10.8 percent average fare increase, and this February hiked prices by about 2 percent.

Oberman complained the passenger rail service didn't need that high of a fare hike to meet budget goals this year.

"I think it is a mistake and it's more than the 4.8 percent needed," he said during Friday's hearing. "This fare increase breaks faith with our public."

The higher fares were intended to partly fund an ambitious $2.4 billion, 10-year capital plan to buy 52 new locomotives and 367 railcars and subsidize Positive Train Control, an automatic braking system meant to stop crashes.

But facing a shortfall in federal and state funds, Metra scaled back the plan in August.

UP Northwest Line passenger Steve Baldasti, who commutes from Palatine, asked why Metra is paying for radio ads that tout how customers can buy a 10-ride pass for the price of nine rides.

"It seems odd to me that Metra would pay to develop the ad, pay for radio time and give people a discount; then turn around and ask for a fare increase," he said. "They are out of touch with the daily commuter."

Metra's proposed $1.06 billion 2017 budget includes a 3 percent average salary increase for Metra employees plus $2.6 million for PTC and $1.2 million extra for the security and police departments.

The railroad will add nine jobs in 2017, including three police officers to ride trains. Salaries will increase by $7.9 million in 2017.

The 5.8 percent increase would generate about $3 million in new revenues.

The hike means a person traveling between Arlington Heights or Lisle and Chicago will pay 6.8 percent more or $185.24 instead of $173.50 for a monthly pass. That same commuter would pay $58.50 for a 10-ride pass instead of $55.75, a boost of 5 percent, if the fare hike is approved.

Metra finance officials said regular passenger fares would account for $357.5 million in revenue in 2017, while they anticipate $3.1 million in reduced fare revenues. The agency is also expecting $28.9 in other revenues and $419.1 million from the Regional Transportation Authority's sales tax revenues.

In August, Metra suspended an order for 367 new railcars but said it hoped to buy 21 cars at a reduced price by piggybacking on a Virginia railroad's purchase.

Metra planners are still pursuing the Virginia cars and intend to rehabilitate several locomotives next year.

• Daily Herald Staff Writer Jake Griffin contributed to this report.

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