Some riders getting a break in Metra's new fare structure
Metra is shaking up its fare structure to offer one-day passes and to consolidate zones in a number of exurbs, meaning cheaper rides for some.
The changes aren't permanent -- yet. Instead, they're part of a pilot project Metra is launching with hopes of increasing ridership. The rollout should occur through the summer and fall.
There are risks in that revenue could decrease by up to $500,000 if the tweaks backfire, but those would be offset if 86,250 trips were added annually, planners estimated.
All but one Metra director agreed to proceed at a meeting Wednesday. Director Romayne C. Brown of Chicago abstained,
Director John Plante of Wilmette said he was somewhat "skittish about this, especially right now when tax revenues are down."
Chairman Norm Carlson of Lake Forest conceded there was a risk, but "we have measured the business risk and are willing to take a bit of a business risk to see if this works. Nothing ventured, nothing gained."
Brown said she hadn't seen enough justification to move ahead with the revisions.
One fare structure change would cap zones at 45 miles from downtown affecting five of Metra's more remote destinations: Kenosha, Antioch, McHenry and Woodstock in Zone K and Harvard in Zone M.
Those stops would be merged into Zone J, which will mean lower ticket prices.
A monthly pass between downtown and Zone K is $290 compared to $275.50 when traveling to or from Zone J.
A monthly pass between downtown and Zone M is $319.
"We want to try and foster more commuting into downtown Chicago and also suburb to suburb," Senior Division Director Lynnette Ciavarella said. Ridership from the outermost zones is declining, although forecasts indicate population growth in those communities, she noted.
Director Ken Koehler of Crystal Lake said an express train from Harvard would draw the most riders but a lower fare "may help a little bit."
The proposed 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 to prevent being shared among riders. Testing could start this summer with a possible debut in mid-July.
Planners said it would simplify logistics for passengers, has potential to attract new riders and received high marks in a survey conducted in 2017.
A third change involves reassigning the zones for seven stations on the Metra Electric Line in Chicago. The intent is to provide pricing that is consistent with the distance to downtown. It would mean commuters using those stations traveling inbound would pay slightly less but those heading outbound would pay more.
Other recommendations to introduce rush-hour pricing and create a downtown station zone are still under review.
The fare structure shake-up is a result of months of study led by consultants Four Nines Technologies, which has a $315,300 contract with the agency.