Metra eyes fare hike averaging 2 percent
Metra riders could face fare hikes ranging from 25 cents for a single ticket to $1.75 for a 10-ride pass to $2.50 for a monthly pass in February 2016.
Agency leaders introduced the change Thursday, saying the increase could have been higher if not for a drop in diesel fuel costs, higher sales tax revenues and budget reductions.
A final vote will come in November. The move follows Metra's fare hike averaging 10.8 percent in February 2015.
If it's approved, commuters could expect spikes averaging 3.6 percent for one-way tickets, 3.2 percent for 10-ride passes and 1.3 percent for monthly pass holders, depending on the length of the commute.
For example, a monthly pass holder traveling between Lisle or Arlington Heights and Chicago would pay $173.50 instead of $171, and a 10-ride pass would cost $55.75 instead of $54.
Metra leaders say the news could have been worse and pointed to estimates back in 2014 of a possible 5 percent fare hike in 2016.
One reason for the increase is positive train control, a new automatic braking system mandated by the federal government that will cost $3.3 million for maintenance in 2016.
Officials also pointed to the state budget stalemate, noting that they don't expect to receive any funding from Springfield for capital needs next year.
Metra is still committed to a 10-year, $2.4 billion capital plan that includes buying 367 new train cars and 52 locomotives and rehabbing existing cars and locomotives. To pay for it, Metra leaders have predicted regular fare hikes over a decade to pay for the capital costs as well as cost-of-living increases of about 3 percent annually. This year's operating budget, however, is up by 2 percent from $744.7 million in 2015 to $759.8 million in 2016. Salary raises for union and nonunion workers are expected to be about 3 percent on average.
The 2016 fare increase would amount to a 2 percent spike in overall fare revenue, generating $6.5 million.
Lessening the pain for passengers is a $19.6 million boost in state sales tax revenues. Operating expense increases were offset by a dip in diesel prices for $19.4 million in savings and $5.7 million in internal cuts.
"Overall, in the face of difficult circumstances, we're doing a good job," Chairman Martin Oberman said. "Could we do a better job? Absolutely, there's always ways to improve."
Last year, Metra Director John Zediker of Naperville opposed the 10.8 percent increase, suggesting a smaller boost.
Now, "I feel a lot better than last year," Zediker said. "I'm very happy with what the finance department has done to find efficiencies. Obviously, diesel helps significantly ... but for positive train control we might not need any increases."
Board director and Hanover Park Mayor Rodney Craig said the board had been upfront with riders. "We put out the 10-year plan. We said, 'This is what it's going to cost.'"
"On the operational side, we've managed to hold the line this past year and found savings," he said.