Metra leaders aim to fast-track fare structure changes

Metra leaders urged staff planners Wednesday to expedite proposed changes in the railroad's fare structure.

The existing fare system is five decades old and doesn't reflect changing commuting patterns, officials said. Revisions are aimed at attracting more passengers and reducing overcrowding on some trains.

Among the ideas are creating a one-day pass, discounting reverse commute rides and charging more on some rush-hour trains.

"We know ridership has been declining," Senior Division Director Lynnette Ciavarella said at a board meeting. "We can't control external factors, (such as) gas prices and commuting patterns, so we must look at what we can control."

Planners and the agency's consultants Four Nine Technologies proposed rolling out most of the changes in 2020 but Chairman Norm Carlson pushed for a faster pace. "We need to take the brakes off," Carlson said.

"We're already comfortable with the recommendations; we need to show something as soon as possible to passengers so they start seeing a return on the investment made on this study."

Instituting a one-day pass and consolidating some of Metra's outermost zones could be accomplished sooner than 2020, planners said.

Included in the changes are discounting 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.

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.

The one-day pass would be between any two zones and cost twice the price of a one-way ticket. This pass would only be available through the Ventra app.

Another recommendation is to restrict Zone A to the six downtown stations: Union, Ogilvie Transportation Center, LaSalle Street, Millennium, Van Buren Street and Museum Campus/11th Street. Other stops in Zone A would be shifted into Zone B.

Downtown stations would be considered premium destinations and that should mean higher rates for travel during rush-hour. Metra planners are hoping the congestion pricing will encourage more commuters to ride at off-peak times.

Also, Metra K, L and M zones would be consolidated into a new "Zone J" over time. 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.

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