Metra board approves 10.8 percent fare hike
Metra commuters who weathered the polar vortex of January 2014 can expect another big chill in February 2015 -- higher fares.
Metra leaders Friday debated and then approved an average 10.8 percent fare hike that will pay employees more and buy essential equipment but won't deliver any extras such as more express trains or additional weekend and late-night service.
The vote was approved unanimously.
Board Director John Zediker of Naperville suggested halving the increase. "Clearly, we can't balance everything on the backs of the riders" he said. He made and then withdrew a motion for a 5.4 percent spike.
But Director John Plante suggested that move would be "kicking the can down the road."
"The whole reason we got to this point is we need to modernize the railroad," Chairman Martin Oberman said. He added that using some of the fare increase for capital will encourage state and federal lawmakers to come to the agency's aid. "We've put as much on the riders as we think the market will bear.
Board directors also directed staff members to come back with ideas for cutting costs in 60 days.
"We've all heard from the public, 'have you squeezed every penny from your operation?'" Oberman said.
For monthly pass-holders, the proposed 10.8 percent change, effective in February, would mean paying up to 19 percent more, with hikes of 14 percent for someone traveling from Chicago to Lisle or Arlington Heights.
Ten-ride pass holders will get a break on account of a decision by a now-ousted administration to arbitrarily increase 10-rides by 11 percent in 2013.
The new order didn't sit well with some riders, such as Anne Hedleston of Wheeling, who say their pay isn't keeping pace. "I just got my first 2.4 percent increase after four years with the present company last year and may not get another one," she said. "It seems to me like every time there's a new transportation project afoot, the poor little guy gets stuck with the bill."
Metra leaders promised they were doing the best they could to make up for mistakes of the past. The fare hike will help pay for updated infrastructure. It also will subsidize an automatic braking system mandated by Congress known as positive train control.
Metra official foresee raising fares in 2015 as the first step in a decade of fare hikes that will cumulatively total 68 percent. The program will pay for additional train cars and locomotives and positive train control but not for any service expansions or additional trains such as those sought by commuters along the North Central Service or Heritage Corridor.
The extra cash would also be spent on 3 percent cost-of-living increases annually for a decade.