Metra eyes hiking fares 5.8 percent on average next year

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Metra anticipates extensive delays on lines that use Union Station because of signal problems. | Sun-Times file photo

Metra riders would see an average fare increase of 5.8 percent – the larger of two options considered – under a $1.06 billion tentative budget approved Friday for release to the public.

The proposed fare hike would raise the cost of a monthly pass by $11.75, a 10-ride ticket by $2.75 and a one-way fare by 25 cents, regardless of zone, starting Feb. 1.

The fare increase is the third of 10 planned over a decade to help fund the overhaul of the oldest fleet among similar commuter railroads and bankroll an expensive, federally-mandated safety technology.

Once again, riders closest to the Loop would shoulder the biggest percent jump in fares, something some customers last year predicted would have some Metra riders switching to the CTA.

Outgoing Board Chairman Martin Oberman of Chicago argued in favor of the smaller fare hike — 4.8 percent. He noted that every time Metra raises fares, it loses riders.

Oberman said the board should stick by its promise to raise fares as little as possible each year in the 10-year schedule.

“What we did today was ad hoc,” Oberman told reporters. “We need to keep our customers trusting us.”

In fact, Oberman said, the board’s rail car purchase plans have changed so much that he would have supported a 1 percent fare increase except that RTA rules require that Metra fares cover 52.5 percent of its operating costs. That equates to a 4.8 percent fare increase.

But only board member Manuel Barbosa of Kane County was persuaded by Oberman to join him in opposing the 5.8 percent option.

It was the second battle Oberman lost Friday.

Oberman, an appointee of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, had lobbied behind the scenes for the board to change its rules so he could serve a full four-year term as chairman rather than surrender that role Nov. 2, when the partial term he filled expires and the chairmanship is due to turn over to a collar-county member.

Instead, board member Norman Carlson of Lake County, a former Arthur Andersen executive with railroad industry experience, was nominated Friday for chairman. Oberman joined in the “aye” votes, making Carlson’s elevation unanimous.

Oberman told reporters that his fare increase position had “absolutely nothing” to do with his loss of the chairmanship, as he raised the fare issue with colleagues much earlier.

Suburban board members argued Friday that the 5.8 percent average fare increase would yield $3 million more in revenue than the 4.8 percent one. That amount would allow Metra to rehab two locomotives and cut back on delays, they said.

Metra suffered 114 mechanical delays in September, largely due to locomotive problems, noted board member John Zediker of DuPage County.

“If we can chip into our second biggest cause of delays, I’m OK with that,” Zediker said.

Eight public hearings on the proposed fare increase and budget are scheduled for Nov. 2 and Nov. 3. That includes a Nov. 2 hearing from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Metra headquarters, 547 W. Jackson. A board vote is slated for Nov. 11.

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