Metra 'still working out' whether to hike fares
Metra riders will have to wait for definitive answers on whether fares will spike in 2016.
Last fall, agency leaders unrolled an ambitious 10-year modernization plan including new locomotives and cars to be bankrolled by raising ticket prices annually for a decade with a projected 5 percent spike in 2016.
The agency is still analyzing data and will offer specifics in October, CEO Don Orseno promised Tuesday.
"We don't know at this point whether there will be a fare increase or not; we're still working that out," he said. "We would be remiss to share things publicly that may or may not happen."
Tuesday, the agency cited $5.7 million in cuts and savings including eliminating six management jobs, reducing certain retirement contributions, bringing work in-house and replacing or rehabilitating older diesel-guzzling trains.
"We're sharpening our pencils," Orseno said. "Everyone on Metra is working tirelessly to come up with efficiencies to make the customer experience better."
In a statement, he noted "if we can find ways to avoid higher fares, we will do it."
Adding to the mix of uncertainty is the lack of a state budget. As the stalemate between Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan continues, millions of dollars in transit funding is at stake.
In February, fares spiked by 10.8 percent on average although monthly pass holders paid up to 19 percent more.
Here's what Metra proposed in October 2014 for the 10-year program:
• A 3 percent cost-of-living increase every year
• A $2.4 billion capital plan that includes buying 367 new rail cars and 52 new locomotives plus rehabbing 455 cars and 85 locomotives. About $1.3 billion of that capital program was unfunded.
• Borrowing $21 million in 2015 and $47 million in 2016 to pay for Positive Train Control, a federally mandated automatic braking system required to be in place by the end of 2015.
• Average fare increases of: 5 percent in 2016; 8.5 percent in 2017; 4 percent in 2018; 7.75 percent in 2019; 3 percent in 2020, 2021, 2023 and 2024; and 5.75 percent in 2022,
"These were projections based on data and data always changes," Orseno said.