Metra sees large increase in ridership

Metra says over 70,000 riders a day are using its trains this month, already 25% of ridership in July 2019.

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A Metra train arrives at the LaSalle Street Metra Station in the Loop, Monday morning, Jan. 4, 2021.

Metra added trains to its schedule beginning July 12 to keep up with increasing ridership.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Metra ridership continues to rise and is recovering a little faster than expected.

Metra officials said Wednesday about 70,000 riders a day are using Metra this month, about 25% of ridership in July 2019. The commuter rail operator hadn’t anticipated reaching 30% until the end of the year.

“We are very comfortable we will reach our 30% target by the end of the year, and we should hit it no problem,” Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said.

A ridership report released Wednesday showed Metra carrying 54,400 riders a day in June, just 19% of ridership in June 2019. Ridership, however, was up 172% when compared with June 2020.

Ridership jumped to 65,700 a day for the week of July 6.

“We were expecting that after July Fourth and after Labor Day would be significant days for people to come back, based on our conversations with the civic community,” Gillis said.

Metra expanded train schedules beginning July 12 to accommodate more people returning to their downtown offices and people using trains outside of rush-hour periods.

“It's all good news and positive stuff. We are seeing trains actually crowding in some areas,” Metra CEO Jim Derwinski said during a board meeting Wednesday.

Gillis said there is still a large amount of uncertainty about when crowded trains will be normal, and it may take several years for ridership to return to 2019 levels.

The ridership report also revealed 61% or riders use the Ventra app to buy tickets, up sharply from the 45% of riders who used it pre-pandemic.

“It was pretty popular before the pandemic, but we have really been pushing it for customers to use as it is a contactless way to pay your fare,” Gillis said.

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