Faced with tens of millions of dollars in red ink, the Metra board unanimously voted Friday to impose the largest fare increase in the rail agency’s 27 year history. The average ticket price will go up by 25 percent, while users of the popular 10 ride ticket will pay more than 30 percent more.
“Nobody on the board is happy about raising fares,” said board member Jack Schaffer. “But it is the responsible thing to do.”
New Metra CEO Alex Clifford said the fare hike was unavoidable because of years of “kicking the can down the road” in Metra’s budgeting process. He argued that his disgraced predecessor Phil Pagano had for too long raided the agency’s capital budget, just to keep the operating budget in the black.
Faced with the need for some $5 billion in improvements, Clifford convinced the board that fare hikes were their only choice.
“We will ask that our riders continue to be loyal riders to our system,” Clifford said. “I hope to never bring this sizable type of increase back to the board.”
Board member Arlene Mulder said commuters told her they preferred fare hikes to service cuts, although she said many expressed hope that if they paid more, the trains would soon be equipped with wi-fi to improve their travel experience.
“I think there’s been a number of adjustments,” said board member Don DeGraff, arguing that the agency had pared spending in addition to going to the fare box. “We shouldn’t dismiss the fact that there have been 17 and a half million dollars worth of cuts.”
Many commuters conceded that Metra had to do whatever it needed to keep its trains rolling. Some said they would try to stockpile lower-priced ten-ride tickets, in advance of the February 1st fare hike. The ten-rides are good for one year.
But Metra thought of that.
Agency staffers estimated that the railroad would lose nearly $3 million at the hands of ticket-hoarders. So officials imposed a new expiration date. Any ten-ride tickets purchased after midnight tonight, will automatically expire February 29, 2012. Immediately after the board voted, signs began going up in train stations, warning commuters of the new policy.
"There’s no room in there for people to go buy a lot of tickets and stockpile them,” Clifford said. "Don’t do it."
Metra’s last general fare increase was in 2008.