Coming at you this week -- Metra fare hike
If you switched to Metra to elude higher tolls that went into effect Jan. 1, you're out of luck as of Wednesday.
Metra fares will spike this week by an average of 30 percent for 10-ride tickets and 29 percent for monthly passes.
The increase is intended to plug a budget hole of about $53 million.
For a lot of suburban commuters, the fare hike is just one more hit along with higher gas, food and water service bills.
"It hurts," BNSF passenger Jay Nicholson said Friday at the Downers Grove station. "I'm not getting raises anymore, so it all adds up."
"In a way, I think it's too much, but everything is going up," Gloria Zavos told me.
But Gary Kursaitis thinks "you can't blame (Metra). The state's going bankrupt. The counties are going bankrupt.
"It will be a hardship, but I understand. If they make legitimate improvements, it will be all right."
What type of improvements?
"Having the trains run on time would be helpful," Kursaitis said. "Last Sunday, I was waiting for a train in Wheaton that was 45 minutes late."
Soaring diesel fuel prices, higher insurance costs and previous financial mismanagement necessitated the changes, officials said.
"In 2011, Metra funded an operating budget gap with capital dollars. In 2012, we discontinued this practice, requiring Metra to bridge the gap. Given a choice between service cuts or raising fares, riders told us a fare increase was preferred," Metra Chief Communications and Marketing Officer Robert Carlton said in an email.
"Metra is committed to no substantial fare increases and expects that future fare increases, if required, will be smaller."
Asked how the agency will contain costs in the future, he explained, "We will continue the same cost-cutting strategy that we used to cover our 2011 deficit without a fare increase and used in our 2012 budget process to reduce the size of the fare increase needed -- identifying internal efficiencies that reduce costs.
"For example, we locked in most of our fuel needs for 2012, and plan to seek legislative approval this year for us to hedge our fuel costs when it makes sense to do so.
"We will continue to scrutinize all contracts, procedures and operations to identify ways to do things more cost effectively without undermining safety, security and the passenger experience."
Metra had previously borrowed from its capital budget, intended to fund repairs, equipment and expansion, to pay for operating costs.
"Retaining capital dollars in the capital budget will help hold down operating costs by keeping equipment in better repair," Carlton said.
"New equipment that will start entering the system at the end of 2013 -- the start of the replacement of the Metra Electric fleet -- will reduce the costs we now pay to keep that aging fleet in service. Going forward, we will continue to look for internal efficiencies that reduce costs without impacting our service to riders."
Metra Director Michael McCoy, who joined the board last year, said borrowing from the capital fund undermined efforts to keep the system in a state of good repair.
"We felt this would be a one-time hit," said McCoy, an Aurora resident and former Kane County Board chairman.
"Going forward, I don't expect to see fare increases next year, and in the future they should be based more on cost of living or some type of index ... so that our spending and operating side should not rise faster than the economy."
Got an opinion on the fare increase? Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few reminders about the change. To prevent hoarding, one-way and 10-ride tickets bought from Nov. 12 through Tuesday will expire March 1.
Other changes effective Wednesday include:
• One-way tickets will be valid for 14 days, not a year.
• Monthly passes will be valid through the end of the month, not noon the first day of the next month.
• Subsidies for the Link-Up and Plus Bus are gone.
For more info on specific rates, check out metrarail.com.
After writing about a proposed state law giving commuters greater leeway in crossing lowered railroad gates, I had an interesting email from James Wilson of Naperville.
A 34-year veteran in the railroad industry, whose experience includes working as a safety supervisor and operating officer, Wilson wrote, "the majority of commuter operations in this area are on multiple main track lines of two to four tracks with speed limits upward of 70 mph and maybe higher for some Amtrak trains.
"The odds of having a pedestrian accident go up as there are more trains, various speeds, curves, weather, and lighting variations. Most of those accidents are a result of misjudgment of train location, speed, and the attitude of 'I have to make my train.' These accidents are devastating.
"The laws regarding railroad pedestrian crossings were put in place due to these circumstances. We as a society put these laws in place as common sense, for protection and safety. We also contract with private/public companies to operate Metra trains, and they grant access for us to go on their property to board and ride the trains. If these companies had the right to put their own rules in place, they would probably be more restrictive.
"I believe in personal liberty for everyone, but even with the laws we have there are too many deaths, too many people with arms and legs missing, too many affected lives to not have some absolute rules in place at railroad pedestrian crossings. To make the kind of proposed changes in the law would leave everything open for interpretation from the policeman to the Supreme Court and (result in) more people (being) killed or maimed in the process."
You should know
Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is the nation's busiest airport while our own O'Hare ranks No. 2, the FAA reported Thursday. Who else got in the top 10, you ask? The airports with the most flight operations after Hartsfield-Jackson and O'Hare in descending order are Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Denver International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Los Vegas-McCarran International Airport, Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and Philadelphia International Airport.
If you're headed to the South suburbs, watch out for bridge work on the Tri-State Tollway between 147th Street and I-57 through Wednesday.
Just a week away. Vroom. Vroom. The Chicago Auto Show runs Feb. 10 to 19. For info, check out //chicagoautoshow.com">chicagoautoshow.com.
Boots made for walking (and biking)Chicago tanked in a national survey of walkability and biking funding, the Active Transportation Alliance reports. The city ranked 46th out of 51 major cities in the U.S. for spending on improving walking and bicycling in 2010. But that doesn't mean folks don't chose alternatives to cars and transit. Chicago came in 12th in terms of people getting to work by walking or biking.