Metra's future looks pricier for riders
A spike in Metra fares of up to 25 percent and service reductions continue to be strong possibilities for riders.
Financial staff are expected to come up with different price scenarios in September. With diesel fuel driving up costs, those options could include an increase of 17 to 18 percent in 2012 and 8 percent in 2013.
The commuter rail agency is anticipating a $100 million budget shortfall by 2013.
The agency has relied previously on capital dollars to balance its operating budget, Executive Director Alex Clifford told members of Metra's Citizens Advisory Board on Friday. He laid the blame on his predecessor Phil Pagano, who died in 2010 amid a financial scandal involving misuse of Metra funds.
"The previous executive director allowed the agency to kick the can down the road," Clifford said.
Administrators are monitoring volatile diesel fuel prices in anticipation of entering into an agreement to pay fixed rates for 12 to 18 months.
"We don't have a crystal ball, but when we lock in, if we lock in, we want to do the best to guard our valuable resources," Clifford said,
"If we do a 25 percent increase does there have to be service reductions?" Citizens Advisory Board member Christian Gutierrez asked.
"That's a question we're still trying to answer," Clifford said.
Guitierrez, who represents DuPage County, said passengers could be willing to pay more, "if there is better service."
In describing possible service cuts, deputy executive director for operations George Hardwidge said the agency is now looking at weekend routes with reluctance.
"Weekend service is an important ancillary to serve our customer base. It's an important marketing tool to get nonregular riders," he said.
Metra could drop two roundtrips Saturdays on the Union Pacific North and Milwaukee North lines as well as one round trip on Sundays.
That service was added about a year ago.
"It was specifically added in response to increased demand created by the Edens Expressway reconstruction and CTA construction," Hardwidge said.
While painful, cuts to weekend service aren't as detrimental to passengers relying on weekday trains because there's more flexibility, he noted.