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Metra complaints called “hot garbage” by Dem legislator

Thursday, Sep 13, 2018

* Marni Pyke at the Daily Herald

Metra leaders gave riders a 2019 fare-hike holiday Wednesday but promised doomsday-scenario downsizing unless state funding materializes.

That could mean eliminating stations, trains and even routes, officials said.

“Absent adequate funding, Metra cannot survive in its current form,” Chairman Norm Carlson said.

The solution is to convince Illinois lawmakers to turn on the tap for transit despite ongoing state budget woes, officials said. “We are the lifeline that holds the region together economically — we get people back and forth to work,” Carlson said.

If the push for funding fails, “drastic changes in service levels … may be needed to shrink (Metra’s) size to what our resources can sustain,” he added.

* Mary Wisniewski at the Tribune

“A fare increase only puts a Band-Aid on a gaping wound,” said board member Tim Baldermann of Will County. He said the state has “kicked the can down the road for decades” in terms of funding, and suggested the possibility that Metra may have to cut lines without adequate state help. […]

Metra staff proposed a preliminary 2019 operating budget of $828 million if there are no fare hikes, and a capital budget of about $211 million. The agency has said it needs $1 billion in capital funding to get into a state of good repair. […]

Metra lines with the lowest annual ridership include the Heritage Corridor to Joliet, with 730,000 trips in 2017, and the North Central Service to Antioch, with 1.7 million trips, out of a total of 78.6 million trips for the whole system.

* Matthew Hendrickson at the Sun-Times

In 2014, Metra announced at $2.4 billion plan to modernize its trains and install a federally mandated — yet unfunded — Positive Train Control (PTC) safety system intended to prevent train collisions and derailments.

The board said the plan was put together with the assumption the agency would get $700 million in state and federal funding, with Metra putting in $400 million. But since the state hasn’t passed a new infrastructure plan since 2009 and has reduced some of the funding the agency expected, most of the revenue from fare increases has gone toward capital needs and the PTC system.

* Riverside Democrat…

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Sep 13, 18 @ 1:02 pm:

    Maybe Metra ought to try to enter the 21st Century transit business. They refuse to modernize the fare structure simply to protect the jobs of conductors. How is it possible that you can board a train and have it depart without the rider buying a ticket?

    Protecting the jobs of conductors isn’t part of the mission of Metra, but seems to be its guiding principle. I bet they could save a lot of money if they invested in a modern fare system.

  2. - Sox Fan - Thursday, Sep 13, 18 @ 1:09 pm:

    I agree with 47th Ward. But you have to think that the cost to update every station to eliminate the open boarding procedure currently in place is going to be significant.

  3. - Anonymous - Thursday, Sep 13, 18 @ 1:15 pm:

    ““We are the lifeline that holds the region together economically…”

    And since this region sends far more tax dollars to Springfield than it receives, maybe Springfield can send more back.

  4. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Sep 13, 18 @ 1:16 pm:

    Automatic fare collection equipment doesn’t call in sick, takes no vacation and has no need of a pension. Also, how much cash do you think leaks currently using the system in place, with human beings collecting cash on the trains? How does that get audited, lol?

    Modernize. Adapt or die. This is doable and long overdue.

  5. - Michelle Flaherty - Thursday, Sep 13, 18 @ 1:17 pm:

    When is Zalewski going to tell us how he really feels?

  6. - Ron Burgundy - Thursday, Sep 13, 18 @ 1:20 pm:

    Metra begging for cash is nothing new. Lately they’ve reneged on the promises made to commuters from the last few years of fare hikes — they’re not buying most of the new cars and engines promised, the stations (especially Union) are toxic and dangerously overcrowded pits at times, and it seems like at least 10 times a year they have a complete shutdown at Union during rush hour where they don’t communicate adequately and seem more interested in passing blame than in owning their own problems. Meanwhile, the focus of renovations there seems to be on office space and hotels above the station rather than below where the actual work is desperately needed. Are their needs real? Sure, but as a commuter I don’t trust their management or their priorities.

  7. - Responsa - Thursday, Sep 13, 18 @ 1:36 pm:

    == “We are the lifeline that holds the region together economically — we get people back and forth to work,” Carlson said.==

    Metra along with CTA is supposed to do that and be that. So this is a critical problem and unfortunately one with no obvious easy solution. Calling it hot garbage may not be terribly useful, though.

  8. - ChrisB - Thursday, Sep 13, 18 @ 1:45 pm:


    Metra Conductors still collect cash? News to me. They tell people without tickets to download the app and save themselves $5. I haven’t seen a Conductor collect cash for a ticket in two years.

    I’ve railed on how bad Metra is before (like how they absolutely refuse to take ownership of anything), but the truth is, they need money. They’ve finally realized that riders aren’t the cash pinatas the board thought they were; ridership is falling as price goes up and quality goes down. PTC was an unfunded mandate. Their sweetheart deal with Amtrak at Union Station (which itself is falling apart) is coming to an end soon.

    It’s bad now, but it’s about to get exponentially worse.

  9. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Sep 13, 18 @ 1:50 pm:


    Ever ride Metra after a Ravinia concert? Nobody pays because the conductors can’t move through the train.

  10. - FP_J - Thursday, Sep 13, 18 @ 2:00 pm:

    No question they need more funding, but I agree with 47th Ward that their priorities seem way off base. They should change their fare collection strategy to be proof-of-payment. There is no need to try to retrofit expensive turnstiles and fences into suburban stations. You could just tap-on and tap-off with your Ventra card. Random, plain-clothes inspections keep people paying. This approach works well in paper or electronic form. As it stands now, the conductors don’t even bother to collect fares when the trains get to be very full (e.g., the Ravinia train).

  11. - FP_J - Thursday, Sep 13, 18 @ 2:06 pm:

    I should have said that the tap-on happens on the platform. So, if you are on the train and the inspector catches you without having tapped-on, you get a fine that makes it cheaper to have paid first.

    On the positive train control issue, one of the reasons that it is expensive and causing problems is because they insisted in using a custom system. Their are at least two existing international standards (one European and one Japanese) that could have been purchased (more-or-less) off the shelf. It is the same with rolling stock — we (Americans) pay several multiples of the cost of a typical European train set (which performs better) because we insist that “things are different here.” Some of this is FRA’s fault, but Metra makes no attempt to get waivers….

  12. - Sox Fan - Thursday, Sep 13, 18 @ 2:59 pm:

    ===I should have said that the tap-on happens on the platform. So, if you are on the train and the inspector catches you without having tapped-on, you get a fine that makes it cheaper to have paid first.===

    Excellent solution. To be honest, I never really thought of something that simple and I’ve ridden trains in Phoenix and Denver that also operate on an “honor system”.

  13. - Anonymous - Thursday, Sep 13, 18 @ 3:08 pm:

    If Metra can’t manage the job, maybe they should be reorganized. And if that reorganization reduces Republican / collar county influence in management, who’s to object?

  14. - OneMan - Thursday, Sep 13, 18 @ 3:52 pm:

    The gentleman has a very valid point…

    Metra has internalized the idea that their issues are caused in total by their lack of funding. That is part of it, but that is part of it not all of it. However, Metra gives the impression to its customers that nothing is ever their fault, that they just like their riders are victims.

    Sigh, yes we know the BNSF has switch problems and signal problems, but that is the BNSF we have no control or say (even though we give them millions of dollars)

    Sigh, yes we know the south platforms at Union station are a joke, you can get rained on, see visible diesel fumes, and the ceiling makes our riders nervous, but that is Amtrak’s station. There isn’t anything we can do.

    Sigh, yes we know the first time it gets below freezing there are going be delays and we know every year winter is coming, but it’s hard to get ready, you want us to tell you how hard it is, we love to spend time doing that.

    It is long past time for them to take some real ownership of the issues.

    Want to impress me, have the CEO make his e-mail available or better yet show up at Union or one of the other stations when there is an issue and talk to riders.

  15. - Anonymous - Thursday, Sep 13, 18 @ 5:01 pm:

    I don’t ride Metra why take it out my gas tax money let Metra pay for it

  16. - wordslinger - Thursday, Sep 13, 18 @ 5:18 pm:

    Metra should go for a taste of the booze concessions at Union and Ogilvie.

    If you’re going to let people drink on the trains, get a piece of the action. The bars and beer-tub operators are making money hand-over-fist.

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