What Metra's proposed fare restructuring could mean for you
After months of studying how to redo its decades-old fare system, Metra has produced a smorgasbord of ideas that range from a one-day pass to consolidating its outermost zones to discounting travel at less busy times.
An update of the fare system that dates back 50 years will increase efficiency and attract riders, Metra Executive Director Jim Derwinski said.
"Now it's time the public comes in to say, 'this might work,' or 'I like this,' or 'this definitely won't work.'
"It's not rocket science to figure out most people don't want to pay more."
Numerous public forums to explain the proposed changes start Feb. 1, the same day the agency will institute fare hikes of up to 12.6 percent.
In the meantime, let's delve into the nitty-gritty.
One of the most significant ideas is to discount rides to and from downtown during off-peak hours for people using 10-ride passes or one-way tickets. It would not affect monthly pass-holders. Discounts could range from 50 cents to $1.
Metra planners hope the move would reduce crowding on rush-hour trains and grow ridership at other times.
And for the record, "peak trains are weekday trains arriving downtown between 6 and 9:15 a.m. and leaving downtown between 3:30 and 6:30 p.m.; all other trains are off-peak trains," Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said.
Another concept that could be popular is creating a one-day pass between any two zones costing twice the price of a one-way ticket. This pass would only be available through the Ventra app.
Here's a look at other ideas:
• Restricting Zone A to the six downtown stations (Union, Ogilvie Transportation Center, LaSalle Street, Millennium, Van Buren Street and Museum Campus/11th Street) and kicking out 27th Street, McCormick Place, 18th Street, 35th Street, Western Avenue, Halsted, Kedzie and Clybourn. Those stops would be shifted into Zone B.
The idea is to designate the downtown stations as "premium destinations." Fallout for suburbanites could mean "market-specific fare changes," as in higher rates for travel during rush-hour. Metra planners are hoping the congestion pricing will encourage more commuters to ride at off-peak times, relieving the squeeze on rail cars at peak times.
• Possibly consolidating K, L and M zones into a new "Zone J" over time. This would be of interest to marathon riders who board trains at the end of the line. The change caps fares for trips longer than 45 miles and affects 10 stations at: Round Lake Beach, Lake Villa, Antioch, Long Lake, Ingleside, Fox Lake, McHenry, Woodstock, Harvard and Kenosha.
• Shifting stations such as Forest Glen from Zone C to Zone B on the Milwaukee District North, and Rosemont from D to C on the North Central Service. This would address what some riders see as inconsistencies between train lines when stations located near each other are in different zones.
• Charging the same amount to travel to an additional zone. In most cases the amount is 50 cents but there are variations of 25 cents, 75 cents and $1.25.
The proposals were part of recommendations from consultants at Four Nines Technologies, which has a $315,300 contract with the agency.
Following the public forums, Metra will study costs and impacts on low-income riders, to be followed by a board decision.
Got a question or comment about the fare structure revisions? Send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Upcoming Metra forums will run 4 to 7 p.m. Feb. 1, at Kane County Government Center, 719 Batavia Ave., Geneva; Feb. 5, at Crystal Lake city hall, 100 W. Woodstock St.; Feb. 8, at Arlington Heights' village hall, 33 S. Arlington Heights Road; Feb. 13, at Libertyville's village hall, 118 W. Cook Ave.; and Feb. 15, at Clarendon Hills' village hall, 1 N. Prospect Ave. Another meeting is 2 to 7 p.m. Feb. 20, at Metra headquarters, 547 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago.
You should know
State Rep. David Harris is seeking a legislative fix after concerns about a federal rule affecting towns with airports. Typically in the suburbs, a municipality's share of jet fuel taxes sold at local airports is put into the general fund. Under the revised federal policy, those taxes could only be used for airports. That would mean Wheeling, where Chicago Executive Airport is located, could lose about $150,000 a year. Harris has introduced House Bill 4228 that "provides for distribution of sales tax revenue back to the airports at which the fuel is sold." The bill is in committee.