What commuters need to know about the proposed new Metra fares, zones

On June 21, Metra leaders rolled out a revolutionary proposal to revamp fares and downsize its zone system.

But interviews with BNSF Line riders Wednesday generated a collective "huh?" from many.

"I didn't know that ... and I've been doing this for 40 years," commuter Mark Magro said as he waited for a train in Downers Grove.

"I haven't heard anything about it," commented passenger Allen Bruce.

The goal is to rebuild ridership after COVID-19 and create fares that are easy to understand, officials explained.

Metra would consolidate 10 zones to four with downtown stations designated as Zone 1. Stops within or near Chicago would comprise Zone 2. Zone 3 encompasses the next ring of towns, and farther-out suburbs fall into Zone 4.

"Many of our lines have service patterns that are divided into three zones, and we used those patterns to guide the proposed new zone breaks," spokesman Michael Gillis said.

For example, morning rush-hour BNSF trains serving Aurora to Downers Grove Main Street, then heading express to Chicago, were assigned to Zone 4. A second set serving Fairview to Congress Park, then expressing downtown, were placed in Zone 3. Union Station comprised Zone 1 and the remaining stops were put in Zone 2, he said.

The approach matches cost to service and helps with fare collection during rush hour because conductors have fewer zones to check, Gillis explained.

On lines such as the North Central Service, "geography was a factor as we tried to match stations on the line to nearby stations on other lines. And some of our considerations were guided by our need to avoid disparately impacting minority and low-income communities."

Local colleges and universities have lobbied Metra for years to offer student fares for undergraduates.

Asked where that demographic fits in, Gillis said officials are "open to negotiating with colleges to implement a Metra version of the CTA's UPass, which students subsidize with their student fees, but it is a more complex issue at Metra due to our fare structure."

Pricing under the new fare system would be lower or equal to current rates for one-way tickets. For example, a one-way ticket between downtown and Arlington Heights would decrease from $6.75 to $5.50 if the proposal passes while a trip to Lisle would remain at $6.75.

For monthly customers, a pass between downtown and Lombard (Zone 3) would cost $110 compared to the pre-pandemic rate of $181.25. Metra would drop its pandemic-inspired Super Saver $100 product.

How will the revised system impact the bottom line? "We are projecting that under this proposal, we would generate slightly more revenue than if we keep the current system, with the $100 Super Saver and Day Passes," Gillis said.

"We still won't be collecting nearly what we were collecting before COVID, when fares and ridership were higher."

Metra's board is expected to vote on the redo in August. The agency intends to survey passengers plus hold a virtual hearing as well as "pop-up informational meetings at downtown stations, starting in mid-to-late July," Gillis said.

Longtime rider Magro said he is fine with the changes as long as service is not affected. "I was thinking the $100 a month (Super Saver) wouldn't last long," he noted.

"Forty years ago - this was the best line in the world, but (now) there's a lot of delays and a lot of crowding. But it's still better than driving."

Gridlock alert

Sorry Des Plaines. The Canadian National Railroad is repairing the Central Road crossing, which means a full closure effective Saturday through July 15. Detours will be posted.

You should know

The Chicago Transit Authority kicks off a $268 million redo of the Forest Park Blue Line starting July 23. Workers will replace outdated track and power systems to achieve faster service and rebuild the Racine Station to be fully accessible.

Phase 1 this summer stretches between the LaSalle and Illinois Medical District stations, notorious for slow zones. Riders are encouraged take the Green Line as an alternate and to check for project updates and station closures.

Metra launches new safety campaign promoting app

Metra rolls out proposal for sweeping fare changes

  A Metra train rolls into Elgin Thursday. The commuter railroad is proposing sweeping changes to its zone and fare system. Brian Hill/
  Metra commuter Mark Magro waits for a train in Downers Grove. The commuter railroad is proposing sweeping changes to its zone and fare system. Marni Pyke/
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