Metra CEO talks new fare structure, police body cameras, flippable seats

Metra riders could see a revamp of traditional zone-based fares that might involve new variables such as charging different rates at rush hour in the future, the railroad's executive director said Monday.

Metra commissioned a fare study in 2016 that will be completed later this year.

"Our fares have been this way forever," Don Orseno told an audience at the City Club of Chicago.

"Does it make sense to have a fare structure like that? Should it be a flat fare? Should it be congestion pricing?" Orseno said. "What should it be?"

Congestion pricing typically involves charging more at rush hour. "We hope - if we make changes - it will drive more ridership to the trains; at certain times we have a lot of capacity, at other times we have very little capacity," Orseno said.

Metra also intends to seek money from a $2.7 billion environmental fund that Volkswagen Group of North America established as a settlement for cheating on U.S. vehicle emission standards.

"We feel we are a very good candidate" to obtain funding, Orseno said. "It's a match made in heaven." He added that if Metra is successful, the railroad would buy new locomotives to improve air quality at Union Station and reduce diesel emissions.

And in March, Metra will seek bids on outfitting its police force of 115 with body cameras, Orseno said.

"We think it's a thing we should be doing in the future ... with everything going on in society," he said. "We want to be sure we provide the best equipment for our employees. They're dealing with some pretty tough situations sometimes. We want to be able to back our police department and make sure that everyone understands when an incident does happen, what exactly happened."

Another issue some riders are flipping over is the type of seats Metra uses. Metra started testing fixed seats with armrests and cupholders in early 2016. So far, reaction is mixed.

"We'll decide later if we keep them," Orseno said, adding the agency was making modifications based on customer suggestions.

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