Can 'My Metra' campaign fill empty trains?

  • Metra coach cleaner Sherri Crowder sanitizes the seating area of one of the cars before a Metra news conference Tuesday in Chicago.

      Metra coach cleaner Sherri Crowder sanitizes the seating area of one of the cars before a Metra news conference Tuesday in Chicago. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Metra Executive Director James Derwinski speaks during a news conference Tuesday in Chicago.

      Metra Executive Director James Derwinski speaks during a news conference Tuesday in Chicago. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Signs in train cars tell people to wear face masks to prevent spread of COVID-19.

      Signs in train cars tell people to wear face masks to prevent spread of COVID-19. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • A Metra worker carries cleaning supplies before a news conference Tuesday in Chicago.

      A Metra worker carries cleaning supplies before a news conference Tuesday in Chicago. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 9/16/2020 10:12 AM

With ridership 90% down from norms, Metra is banking on a $967,000 ad campaign that publicizes an all-out effort to keep railcars squeaky-clean amid COVID-19.

However, when it comes to enforcing rules about wearing face masks that are key to preventing the spread of germs, officials said they prefer an educational approach for now.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Metra stands ready to revitalize this economy and the region," Executive Director Jim Derwinski said at a media briefing Tuesday. "We stand ready to get this region back to normal."

The commuter agency is reaching out with ads on social media, television, radio and trains, as well as on billboards, using a "My Metra" slogan.

Officials pitched electrostatic disinfecting foggers and hospital-grade air filters along with daily sterilizations and gallons of hand sanitizer on rail cars during the event at Metra's Western Avenue Coach Yard in Chicago.

"You'll see spotless cars that look almost new," Chief of Staff Janice Thomas said. "Masks are required for everyone on board."

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While most riders are wearing masks, "there are some people who don't follow those rules," Derwinski acknowledged. "The question really goes to 'why don't we kick them off the train?'

"One of the things we really looked at -- is all the people doing the right thing and how that affects (them). When we have someone removed from the train that usually takes the authorities, and we don't have authorities on every single train, so we've been working more with an education campaign."

Metra employees are giving out masks at stations, and "we're looking at adding extra conductors on trains right now for a brief period to try to further educate people," Derwinski said.

In April, Metra directors approved a two-year, $2.8 million contract with Chicago advertising firm LKH & S Inc. to launch a communications blitz. The My Metra campaign component is costing $967,000.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Not everyone is in sync with the message, as Union Pacific conductors are not currently walking through trains to collect fares or observe mask conformance because of COVID-19 concerns. Both railroads are in a legal dispute over UP's plan to turn over train operations to Metra.

Derwinski also addressed a revenue gap caused by farebox losses.

Federal aid from the CARES Act "right now will take us into 2021," Derwinski said. "Clearly, we're going to need more assistance funding from the federal government as they come up with further relief packages."

The federal aid totals $480 million, but Metra anticipates a $202 million shortfall by the end of 2021.

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