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Lower Metra fares, improved Pace service for south suburban Cook County under new program

Fair Transit South Cook, a three-year pilot program, cuts fares in half on the Metra Electric and Rock Island Lines. It also increases the hours and frequency of Pace’s Halsted 352 route.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle speaks Monday, Jan. 4, 2021 during a press conference at the LaSalle Street Metra Station in the Loop.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle speaks Monday during a press conference at the LaSalle Street Metra Station in the Loop. She was kicking off Fair Transit South Cook — a three-year pilot project aiming to improve public transportation in south Cook County.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Some Metra and Pace riders will see lower fares and improved service thanks to a pilot program launched Monday.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who spearheaded the program, said it will make public transportation more accessible and affordable to people who live in or travel to the south suburbs.

“The Southland has long been plagued by a lack of access to transportation and affordable options to get residents to their destinations,” Preckwinkle said Monday. “Time spent waiting on a train or bus could mean the difference between keeping or losing a job and right now, in the current climate with the pandemic, every dollar counts.”

Fair Transit South Cook is a three-year program giving riders a 50% reduction in fares for the Metra Electric and Rock Island Lines. It also increases the hours and frequency of Pace’s Halsted 352 route.

Metra Electric train at University Park.
The Metra Electric line is one of the routes on which fares will be lowered under a pilot program launched Monday.
Sun-Times file

The pilot is a partnership between Cook County, Metra, Pace and the Regional Transportation Authority. The county will dish out $35 million to fund the program, offsetting costs incurred by Metra and Pace during the pilot.

Preckwinkle said the program is especially important now that the pandemic has “disrupted all aspects of our daily lives” and Cook County’s essential workers who rely heavily on public transportation will see some help.

“Now more than ever, it’s important to consider the transportation challenges our residents face,” Preckwinkle said. “The core of Fair Transit is to create equitable access to transit options.”

Richard Kwasneski, chairman of Pace’s board of directors, called the pilot a “game changer for the south suburbs.”

“Transit is a key piece of infrastructure and will be crucial for our region’s economic recovery,” Kwasneski said.

Pace’s 352 route is one of the most used, Kwasneski said, and the program will help triple the number of trips during peak times and nearly double trips during non-peak times.

“The Fair Transit South Cook project is an example of the kind of leadership and innovation that our transit system must pursue if we are to bring improved service, lower cost and more access to the areas in our region with the greatest need,” said Michael Lewis, a member of the RTA board of directors.

Jim Derwinski, Metra’s CEO, read a statement from Romayne Brown, chair of the Metra board of directors.

“This opportunity was truly a Godsend and an easy call for us to participate — and, as we say in the rail business, ‘We’re completely on board,’” the statement read. “This program will help overcome decades of disinvestment in the region.”

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.