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Since last Friday, visitors to Millennium Station have been able to access three free charging stations, each featuring two USB ports and two electrical outlets, that sit on a stainless steel shelf in Metra’s ticketing area. | Metro photo

Free cellphone charging stations at Millennium Station

SHARE Free cellphone charging stations at Millennium Station
SHARE Free cellphone charging stations at Millennium Station

Metra commuters were soaking up free cellphone chargers at Millennium Station this week, thanks to new charging stations that also are planned at four other downtown rail stations.

Special free charging areas will be opening in the coming weeks at the Van Buren Street Station, the LaSalle Street Station and the Ogilvie Transportation Center. In the comingmonths, Metra plans to add similar free amenities in its ticketing area at Union Station, where Amtrak and MobileQubes just started renting out portable cellphone chargers about two weeks ago.

Since last Friday, visitors to Millennium Station have been able to access three free charging stations, each featuring two USB ports and two electrical outlets, that sit on a stainless steel shelf in Metra’s ticketing area, said Metra spokeswoman Meg Thomas-Reile. Up to 12 people can be served simultaneously, she said.

The demand to juice up was so instant Metra didn’t even have a chance to put a sign up about the new feature, she said.

“Literally as soon as our workers started clearing out of the area, people started plugging in,” Thomas-Reile said.

The move was prompted by a July 14 study by DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development that indicated that 44 percent of Metra riders were using electronic gadgets during their train rides, Thomas-Reile said. Some customers were opting to ride Metra because of the convenience of being able to access electronic devices during their rides, researchers found.

Metra’s latestelectronic amenity is “a good business decision,” Metra CEO Don Orseno said in a news release. “It helps us attract and retain riders we need to keep ticket revenues up and fare increases down.”

Metra also hopes to install free charging outlets near its ticket windows at Union Station — the only downtown rail station to currently feature “MobileQubes” self-service machines. The machines dispenseportable chargers that can be rented for $4.99 for 24 hours —followed by up to six consecutive rentals of 99 cents a day each — or purchased for $44.99.

MobileQubes CEO Sean Carrigan said Tuesday he did not know Metra would be installing free charging outlets at Union Station when he negotiated his deal there with Amtrak, which owns Union Station and gets a slice of MobileQubes’ profits.

Even so, Carrigan indicated there’s more than enough customers with charging needs to go around. Union Station serves about 3.3 million Metra and Amtrak customers annually.

If Metra riders have the time and the equipment they need to stand tethered to Metra’s free stations during a charge, “more power to them,” Carrigan said. But MobileQubes’ kiosks let commuters rent portable charging equipment in “less than a minute,” use it on the ride home and return it in the morning, Carrigan said.

“Commuting is challenging enough when there are tens of thousands of people moving through a station. If we can keep them moving, it’s a service passengers appreciate,” Carrigan said.

Amtrak only started discussing where Metra’s free charging stations might be located in Union Station on Monday, so “it would be premature to speculate on a deployment date,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said Tuesday.

Asked if Amtrak was worried about the new, free charging competition, Magliari said: “We have competition in the Food Court every day. Next to each other are two vendors that sell hot dogs.”

The charging facilities at four downtown stations are expected to cost Metra $6,000 to $7,000 total.

In addition, the ongoing rehab of Metra’s fleet thus far has placed 19 outlets each in 130 of 739 diesel-powered cars, with more to come, Thomas-Reile said. The vast majority of Electric Line cars also are being upgraded to include electrical outlets, Thomas-Reile said.

Metra also is exploring ways to provide free Wi-Fi in the waiting areas of its downtown stations.

“Our goal is to convince more drivers that Metra offers a safe, efficient travel option that enables commuters to access the technology they want and deserve,” Orseno said.

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