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Metra launches ad campaign to convince commuters it’s safe to ride the trains

Metra is currently at 10% of its normal ridership.

Karl Anderson cleans the rails of a Metra train at Metra’s Western Avenue Coach Yard at 2801 W. Grand Ave. Tuesday morning, Sept. 15, 2020. Metra launched a campaign Tuesday that informs riders about the steps they are taking to keep their trains clean and their passengers safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
Karl Anderson cleans the rails of a Metra train Tuesday at Metra’s Western Avenue Coach Yard at 2801 W. Grand Ave.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Metra is launching an ad campaign to convince people it is safe to ride its trains.

Expect to see billboards, as well as television, radio and online ads — all trumpeting safety measures and the slogan “Commute with confidence.” Metra will spend $967,000 on the campaign designed Chicago-based firm LKH&S.

The ads will highlight rail cars that have been outfitted with hand sanitizing stations, “hospital grade” air filters, mask requirements, frequent deep cleaning efforts and air circulation that replaces the air in each car once every four minutes, Metra officials said at a news conference Tuesday.

Staggered seating aims to keep train cars from exceeding 70 passengers — or half full.

“We stand ready with open doors to welcome riders back and invite new riders in,” Metra President Jim Derwinski said.

The ad campaign also seeks to make things personal.

“We want our riders to think of it as ‘My Metra,’ in the same way they think about my car, my home and my community, because Metra is owned by the people,” the publicly funded transit agency said in a statement.

Metra’s daily ridership is about 25,000 passenger trips a day, less than 10% of the 270,000 trips daily before the pandemic.

At its lowest point, ridership dipped to 8,000 passenger trips a day, just 3% of usual ridership.

Metra anticipates that by the end of the year ridership will rebound to 20%, a projection that Derwinski admitted was optimistic but for good reason.

“We’re too much of a vital resource in the region. Just like any urban area, there’s no way you can put all those people on the roads,” he said, acknowledging many commuters might return to the office only three or four days a week.

Another topic Derwinski addressed: How to handle riders who refuse to follow mask requirements.

“There are some people who don’t follow those rules, and the question really goes to: ‘Why don’t we kick them off the train?’” Derwinski said.

“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 really working more with an education campaign,” he said, noting Metra is looking at temporarily adding extra conductors to further educate people about mask usage.

“And we’ve been counting the people that aren’t wearing masks on trains and the number is, suggestively, very low, which is a good thing. I think people are finally getting the message,” he said.

Metra is currently running 382 trains a day — 55% of the 692 trains that ran daily before the pandemic tossed a wrench into things.

The transit agency received $479.2 million from the federal government earlier this year, but will need more help in the future.

“Clearly we’re going to need more [federal funding] ... but clearly right now we’re good through the middle part of 2021,” Derwinski said.