Don't End SW Service's Saturday Trains
September 20, 2011
We’re having a hard time accepting the possibility that Metra may kill weekend service on its SouthWest Service Line and end two weekday trains between Orland Park and Manhattan.
Especially because Metra hasn’t done much to promote the Saturday service and doesn’t offer enough trains (only three each way) to make it convenient and attract more riders.
The commuter line from Chicago to Manhattan has no express trains, no Sunday service and now no Saturday service? Who have we angered?
It took years to get weekend service on the line, and because Metra views ridership during the first two years as disappointing, its officials are talking about going back to service levels from the 1990s when the southwest suburbs were Metra’s version of the Sahara Desert.
Metra is facing up to a $100 million budget deficit, so every “budget problem” comes prepackaged with an urge to cut service. But ridership often is a function of options — more trains will certainly boost ridership and fewer will not, or increase revenue.
Losing weekend Metra service would not be a catastrophe for the southwest suburbs, but it would be a setback, a slap in the face for a traditionally underserved area. This is a time when building economic vitality and quality-of life options makes all the sense in the world for us.
As for the cost issue, cutting the service would save Metra about $800,000 and make no appreciable dent in its operating budget. The solution would seem to produce more harm than cure.
We have stated before that if Metra can make the case for raising fares as a way to balance its budget, we’d have a hard time arguing against it. Metra went through that exercise this summer and decided not to do so.
Fares should reflect what it costs to run the trains, and perhaps weekend rides need to cost more. As we suggested last week, it would help if Metra moved quickly to adopt smart cards to collect fares rather than relying on an antiquated system of conductors punching riders’ tickets — a system the agency admits costs it plenty (though it’s not sure exactly how much) each year.
We suggest that Metra think deeper thoughts on this topic before it settles on its 2012 service schedule.
We’re encouraged that U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) and 22 elected officials along the SouthWest Service Line wrote to Metra last week, opposing reduced service and encouraging Metra to hold public hearings and solicit input from riders before making any final decisions.
We think the SouthWest Service Line needs more Saturday trains, not fewer, to have a chance to succeed. It’s time for more innovative management and promotion by Metra. The weekend service is too important to derail.
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