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Metra Using "Observers" to Make Sure Conductors Collect All Fares

By Chuck Sudo in News on Sep 2, 2011 6:40PM

Photo by tncountryfan

The Sun-Times has an interesting story today about how Metra has started assigning "observers" to ride trains and observe how conductors collect fares.

It's no secret that a Metra rider can sometimes hop aboard a train and not see a conductor, thereby getting a free train ride. The problem is exacerbated when a major event is happening downtown and the train has one, maybe two conductors to collect fares from a full train. It's like using a Band-Aid to hold two steel beams together.

Apparently this news was new to Metra's Board of Directors when they read the results of a customer service survey. Metra, like CTA and Pace, is facing a budget shortfall but they're the one local transit agency that keeps floating the idea of a fare hike to its customers. Instead of, you know, putting more conductors on trains for events like Taste of Chicago, Lollapalooza and the city's music festivals to ensure every fare is collected.

Metra spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said, “Recently, the number of concerns and complaints about this problem has increased." Metra’s new executive director, Alex Clifford, is supposedly "taking this very seriously because of budget concerns.”

If Metra is taking this seriously, how much are they paying the observers? Would adding, say, three more conductors to a train during peak hours and special events, and maybe an extra conductor during off-peak hours be enough to collect as many fares as possible?

And why the hell is Metra threatening to raise fares by 20 percent and possibly cut services when they spend $2 million in company cars that 20 administrators and staff can take home 24-7, 365 days a year? If they're so concerned about their budget, shouldn't the perks they've abused enjoyed over the years be the first cuts to make?

The bureaucracy, lack of oversight and tone-deafness at Metra makes CTA seem like a well-oiled operation.