July 29, 2011
By Amanda Drapiewski
Residents who rely on the Metra trains to travel, could face some possible service cuts and fare increases.
Officials of Metra did state last year that no such increase, or countervailing cut in service, would be necessary.
Metra is discussing a range of cost-cutting and income-raising options, including eliminating 31 weekdays trains and 18 weekend trains; ending extra service for White Sox and Bears games; and raising fares between 9 and 20 percent, according to reports.
The cuts are needed to offset a $100 million shortfall created by things such as high fuel costs and reduced sales tax receipts.
“Metra had made these announcements last week, without any notice to the legislatures” said state Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-12), who is also head of the state Senate Transportation Committee.
Nearly 80 percent of the 1.8 million riders who take Metra trains every week do so to get to and from work.
Metra is considering various options to address the 2012 budget shortfall.
“They (Metra) have cut back on personnel, pay freezes and more,” said Sandoval.
Their budget strategies contemplate increasing revenues with higher fares and lowering costs with service reductions.
They did implement slight fare adjustments applicable to One-Way tickets and the Weekend Pass in 2010.
Before finalizing the 2012 budget, public hearings will be held that will detail the final service/fare options the Metra Board will be asked to consider for approval.
Saturday service on the southwest will be eliminated, according to Metra.
The southwest services do include Orland Park, Worth, Chicago ridge, Oak Lawn, Ashburn, Wrightwood and other areas.
Metra’s plans concerns Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd), who helped push for weekend Metra service that included Oak Lawn.
“Metra faces a roughly $100 million gap in its budget and has placed a number of options on the table for closing that deficit,” said Lipinski. “Along with many of my constituents, I oppose some of these options, including a proposal to halt weekend service on the Southwest Service line. I’m proud that I was able to work with Metra to begin this long-awaited service more than two years ago. Under the plan Metra is currently considering, the Southwest line would see more trains cut than any other line save one.
“Yet the savings would be small, amounting to far less than one percent of Metra’s total deficit,” added Lipinski. “Metra itself recently listed several reasons for not eliminating weekend service system-wide, noting that ‘regular weekend passengers would feel disenfranchised’ while ‘savings would be minimal’ and the ‘ability to attract new riders through weekend service would be lost.’ That certainly holds true for cutting weekend trains on the Southwest Service.”
Train numbers 804 and 831, which arrive and depart from Chicago’s Union Station, will no longer operate, according to Metra.
Train 830 will now originate in Orland Park at 179th Street.
“While I recognize that harsh fiscal realities force difficult decisions, I urge Metra to reconsider its plan, carefully weigh its alternatives, and make sure it achieves efficiencies so that it can select options that do the least harm to the public and to future ridership,” said Lipinski. “I also hope that everyone who lives along the Southwest Service line will recognize that they have an opportunity to vote with their feet against cuts to weekend service. In addition, they can voice their support for weekend service through a survey available on Metra’s website. The more people take advantage of this service, the clearer it will be that cutting it is short-sighted. Maintaining weekend service, even at a reduced level, would provide us with a foundation on which to build going forward.”
Metra’s final budget is to be approved Oct. 14.
“Based on Metra’s lack of notice to the service area, we are holding a hearing to try and get more information” said Sandoval.
A joint hearing with the Senate Transportation Committee will take place at 10 a.m. today (Friday) at the C-600 Michael A. Bilandic Building 160 N. Lasalle St.
“They (Metra) need to make this case to the public,” said Sandoval.