Editorial: Doubts cloud proposed Metra fare increases
Metra is set to vote Friday on proposed fare increases that for 2015 average 10.8 percent and would go up an average of almost 5 percent each year from 2016 to 2024.
If you are a regular rider, have you made your opinions known?
When the plan was announced a month ago, we were wary of the fare increases that will be used to to help pay for a $2.4 billion program to upgrade and maintain the commuter rail system. Today, we must question this plan even more after it was revealed Monday by Daily Herald Transportation Writer Marni Pyke that more than 320 of Metra's nonunion employees saw their pay rise on average 15 percent and as much as 36 percent between 2013 and 2014.
We must agree now with John Zediker, the DuPage County representative on the Metra board, who said last month prior to any public hearings: "I'm not completely sold and I'm not sure the public is going to be sold."
Metra, to its credit, makes no bones about why they increased the salaries. "We were way, way behind the times. We want a competitive structure so we can recruit and retain (employees). We have to invest in our employees that are unique to the railroad," said Chief Executive Officer Don Orseno.
We're not sure, though, that giving an attorney a 23 percent raise (from $90,495 to $111,670) or a police commander at 25 percent raise (from $75,337 to $94,172) in a single year qualifies as employees unique to the railroad. Just two examples, yes, but how many more examples could we find?
Given Metra's poor track record in recent years in managing the system, we are skeptical of these raises at the same time Metra leadership wants so much more money from its riders, many of whom have not seen those kinds of salary increases in years, if ever.
"I think (the) increase is lavish by any standards, even if they haven't had raises in the last five to seven years," North Central Service commuter Nancy Pendrick told Pyke. "Most people during that same period of time were (or) are happy to have any job at all."
Metra has done a good job by holding several public hearings to receive input from the public on the proposed fare increases. However, at least one that Pyke observed, attendance has been scarce. We urge riders who will be affected to make their opinions known by Friday. If you were unable to attend a public hearing, send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the same time, we urge the Metra board to listen to those who have concerns. including legislators like state Rep. Tom Morrison, who suggested they take a harder look at federal and state grant money before asking for such a large increase from riders. It's possible a compromise can be reached.