No more free rides on Metra Union Pacific lines

Metra Union Pacific riders should be prepared to show tickets or passes at Ogilvie Transportation Center in Chicago this week after months of absent fare collection.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a contract dispute with Metra, Union Pacific Railroad conductors stopped collecting fares on the UP North, Northwest and West line trains.

But UP employees screened by plexiglass will verify fares at Ogilvie as passengers leave or enter train platforms, railroad officials announced. Riders are encouraged to use the Ventra app to show ticket status.

“What we know about COVID-19 continues to change, and we have a responsibility to our employees and commuters to put their health and safety first,” UP General Superintendent of Commuter Operations Benita Gibson said.

Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said the strategy “does not fulfill UP's obligation to collect all fares on its trains. It does not call for the resumption of ticket sales and ticket validation by conductors; it does not even call for conductors to resume walking through the passenger cars.”

Union Pacific is seeking to extricate itself from operating Metra trains, but the commuter railroad contends federal law requires UP to stay in place. The dispute has ended up in federal court.

Metra and its partners UP and BNSF suspended collecting fares during Illinois' stay-at-home order in mid-March. But in June, BNSF and Metra conductors resumed collecting fares and walking cars while UP abstained.

UP's actions cost Metra about $1 million a month.

The shift by Union Pacific still “not only results in a loss of revenue to the Metra system, but also results in the erosion of customer safety and security,” Gillis said.

Typically, Metra trains have two or three conductors at rush hour.

Union Pacific leaders said its conductors are on hand when passengers board and exit trains, to operate doors and help riders with disabilities. They contend Metra police should handle safety issues.

Two UP ticket takers agents have died during the pandemic, officials said, but would not specify if that was because of COVID-19.

“The American Public Transportation Association recently acknowledged that managing proximity between riders and operators is key to protecting both from COVID-19 exposure,” UP Chief Medical Officer Laura Gillis stated.

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