Metra's goal in 2020 -- get tough on fare evasion

  • One subtle way that costs Metra money is "zone jumping," where passengers purchase a ticket for a shorter trip that is cheaper than the distance they actually travel.

      One subtle way that costs Metra money is "zone jumping," where passengers purchase a ticket for a shorter trip that is cheaper than the distance they actually travel. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, 2015

 
 
Updated 1/16/2020 4:50 PM

Metra scofflaws who try to cheat the system should watch out in the coming weeks as the railroad cracks down on fare evasion.

Facing a $4 million dip in anticipated passenger revenues from January through November 2019, Metra officials are hoping to introduce new techniques in 2020 to reverse the trend.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It's not just about fare evasion," Executive Director Jim Derwinski said Wednesday. "It's about fare collection. Sometimes, the trains are overcrowded and you can't get a conductor through the train."

First, though, the railroad intends some tough love deploying Metra police officers to conduct random spot checks on its 11 routes to ensure passengers have the right tickets and "potentially citing those who do not," a flier to be distributed Friday warns.

Metra employees also might be checking tickets before riders board trains at high-volume stations that could include Lisle and Naperville.

Metra has faced criticism in the past about conductors not collecting fares, and officials said they hear those complaints loud and clear.

But "there's a lot of good conductors out there doing good work," Derwinski said. "And a lot of great passengers who pay their fair share."

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"It's a vast, open system with no gates and no turnstiles," Director of Station Services David Rubino said.

One subtle way of losing money is "zone jumping," where passengers purchase a ticket for a shorter trip that is cheaper than the distance they actually travel.

"It may take a second pass through the train to catch those people ... they're very crafty," Derwinski said.

Meanwhile, Metra staff members visited commuter railroads on the East and West coasts recently to study best practices.

Ideas the agency may consider include: using gates at high-volume stations, although it's an expensive proposition; giving conductors hand-held devices that verify tickets and can issue citations; and tap-on/tap-off fare cards that record the distance a rider is traveling.

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