Is Metra going to raise ticket prices again?
Metra board directors gave preliminary support Friday to a fare increase next year averaging 5.8 percent.
Directors voted 8 to 2 in favor of the hike, which requires final approval. It would follow an increase of about 2 percent this February.
Increases would range from $2.75 for a 10-ride ticket to $11.75 for a monthly pass.
Salary increases, a federally mandated braking system and repairs and replacement of equipment are driving the need for a spike, directors say. But not everyone was on board.
Outgoing Chairman Martin Oberman supported a smaller fare increase of 4.8 percent. In 2014, he spearheaded a $2.4 billion plan to buy new locomotives and railcars along with other improvements, to be partly funded by 10 years of fare increases.
But facing a shortfall in federal and state funds, Metra scaled back the plan in August.
"We should only charge what we really need to charge to be consistent with our longtime plan," Oberman said.
Other directors, however, said the additional $3 million that a 5.8 percent increase would generate was worth it.
"It would be a travesty to have any bridge failures on the Union Pacific North line and have commuters not being able to get to work," McHenry County Board member Ken Koehler said.
The proposed hike would mean a person traveling between Arlington Heights or Lisle and Chicago would pay 6.8 percent more or $185.24 instead of $173.50 for a monthly pass. That same commuter would pay $58.50 for a 10-ride pass instead of $55.75, a boost of 5 percent, if the fare hike is approved.
Board members plan public hearings on the proposed hikes in November before a final vote.
"We cannot continue to lose ground on our backlog," Hanover Park Mayor and Director Rod Craig said. "I see it with our engines, where we use tired-out, old engines."
Oberman and Kane County Board Director Manuel Barbosa voted "no."
In August, Metra suspended an order for 367 new railcars but said it hoped to buy 21 cars at a reduced price by piggybacking on a Virginia railroad's purchase.
Metra planners said Friday they are still pursuing the Virginia cars and intend to rehabilitate several locomotives next year.
"You'll be able to go from Point A to Point B more reliably," Executive Director Don Orseno said.
But Oberman noted, "I am concerned that customers will think we're breaking faith with them -- not because we didn't plan to get the new rail cars, but because we have deviated with no long-term plan in place."
Incoming Chairman Norman Carlson said one of his priorities will be to develop a strategic plan.
Metra's proposed $1.06 billion 2017 budget includes a 3 percent average salary increase for Metra employees plus $2.6 million toward an automatic braking system and $1.2 million extra for the security and police departments.