Monday, October 19, 2009

Metra proposes 2010 operating budget

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metra.jpg At a time when base sales tax receipts have eroded to a 10-year low, Chicago’s Metra commuter rail service has proposed a $613 million 2010 operating budget that calls for no changes in service and some revisions to its fare structure.

The proposed fare structure includes adjustments in one-way fares and the first change in the cost of weekend passes since the program began in May 1991.  One-way fares would increase about 6%, an average of about 30 cents a ticket. Weekend fares,  for unlimited rides on Saturdays and Sundays, would increase to $7 from $5. To simplify onboard fare collection, increases will be rounded to the nearest quarter, a practice common to other U.S. commuter rail operations. 

The impact of the new fare structure on regular Metra riders will be limited, since most use 10-ride tickets and monthly passes, the cost of which won't change. The new fare structure, which would start Feb. 1, 2010, “is intended to encourage customers to use 10-ride tickets and monthly passes, which already offer a discount over the one-way fares,” Metra said. Those multiple-ride options “are easier than ever to purchase,“ because Metra recently invested $3.9 million in a new website that allows riders to buy 10-ride tickets and monthly passes on line with credit and debit cards. To encourage riders to buy tickets at stations and over the Internet, Metra would increase the penalty for onboard purchases to $5 from $2. That penalty is not assessed on passengers who board at unmanned stations.

Metra says it has adopted a variety of cost-containment measures that saved about $4 million in administrative costs, including leaving about 150 positions unfilled, freezing management salaries, and asking non-union employees to contribute more toward their health insurance premiums. Metra also cited recent actions of the Illinois state legislature that increased the regional transportation sales tax last year andapproving a public works bond program earlier this year. Those provisions, Metra said, “are greatly assisting in balancing our budget and investing in our infrastructure.”

Public hearings on the proposed budget and presentations to the boards of the six counties in Metra’s service area will be held over the next few weeks. The budget also must be approved by the Regional Transportation Authority.