Chicago’s Metra has proposed a $900 million operating budget and $263 million capital budget for 2022; there is no fare increase.
The commuter rail agency’s Board approved the budgets on Oct. 13 (download below). The operating budget “makes conservative assumptions about ridership growth, but funds the restoration of service to pre-pandemic levels,” Metra reported. “To incentivize short trips and attract more customers, the agency is proposing to test a new $6 Day Pass that will be valid for unlimited rides within three zones for a full day.”
The new pass will be offered as a one-year pilot program in addition to the current $10 Day Pass, which is valid for unlimited travel all day across all 10 fare zones. Metra is also exploring additional fare initiatives to “meet the evolving needs of a post-COVID environment.”
According to Metra, the $900 million operating budget assumes the agency will begin 2022 with ridership at about 25% of pre-pandemic levels and wrap up the year at about 35%, leading to a projection of $146.4 million for fares and other system-generated revenues. The budget also uses $458.8 million in revenues from the regional transportation sales tax and $202 million in federal COVID relief funding. The agency said it is requesting an additional $92.8 million in COVID relief funding from the Regional Transportation Authority, which is responsible for distributing another round of federal aid. (RTA oversees finances, secures funding and conducts transit planning for Metra, Chicago Transit Authority and Pace bus service.)
The 2022 proposed budget is 16% higher than that of 2021, which Metra has estimated at $773.6 million. “The increase is mostly attributable to the planned restoration of service to levels at or near pre-pandemic levels on all 11 lines,” the commuter rail agency said. “Currently, service is at about 80% of normal, though it varies by line. Inflationary and contractual costs, including health care, utilities, insurance, are also contributing.”
Metra’s 2022 capital budget of nearly $263 million “continues significant investment in railcars, locomotives, bridges and stations,” the agency said. Funded by $181.6 million in federal formula funds, $75.8 million from the state of Illinois, and $5.5 million from the RTA, it includes:
• $42.8 million for rolling stock, primarily rehabilitations and upgrades to current cars and locomotives.
• $46.2 million for bridges, track and structure.
• $50.6 million for signal, electrical and communications.
• $33.4 million for facilities and equipment.
• $59.4 million for stations, primarily rehabilitations and replacements to existing stations, platforms, shelters and elevators.
• $30.5 million for support activities.
Public budget hearings will be held Nov. 3-4.
“After nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, there remains a great deal of uncertainty about how and when things will return to normal,” Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski said. “We feel the most responsible approach is to be cautious with our assumptions about the growth in ridership, while at the same time ramping up our service, so we are ready when My Metra riders are ready.”
“With the new Day Pass, we want to provide our riders with value and the flexibility they need right now,” Derwinski pointed out. “We are committed to rebounding from the pandemic and giving our riders schedules that accommodate their needs so that My Metra remains the region’s safest and most efficient transportation option.”