Metra cutting back, but is that enough to prevent higher fares?
Metra announced $5.3 million in cuts Monday ranging from fewer ticket agents to less spending on consultants, but riders will have to wait to see whether those actions will forestall a fare hike.
Back in 2014, Metra estimated ticket prices might increase by 8.5 percent in 2017 to help fund a capital improvement program that included borrowing about $400 million.
On Monday, Executive Director Don Orseno said planners are "still in the process of analyzing budget efficiencies" and couldn't yet say if fares will go up.
The Metra board meets Wednesday and is scheduled for preliminary budget discussions and a modernization plan update.
Of the $5.3 million, about $1.7 million was saved by eliminating 27 positions, mainly through attrition and retirements. Those included some ticket agents as more and more fares are being purchased through Metra's smartphone app, Ventra.
Other savings were about $2.6 million by reducing outside consultants working for the legal department, Metra's website, and in marketing.
Metra couldn't provide revenue projections for 2017 yet. Ridership has dipped by about 1.5 percent, although the number of "core riders" who commute Monday through Friday has increased slightly.
Orseno said he wouldn't be surprised if Metra is recouping more revenue as a result of the Ventra app.
The railroad's ambitious $2.4 billion modernization plan includes installing a federally mandated braking system, buying new locomotives and railcars and rehabbing old ones.
The agency raised fares to help pay for the improvements in 2015 and 2016 but said this August it might have to scale back the program because of state cutbacks.