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Metra Introduces $2.4 Billion Capital Investment Plan

By Chuck Sudo in News on Oct 9, 2014 7:30PM

Photo by tncountryfan

Metra passengers could see their fares increase by an average of 11 percent next year and 68 percent over the next decade under a 10-year, $2.4 billion capital investment plan proposed by Metra chairman Martin Oberman Thursday aimed at modernizing the rail agency’s locomotives and cars. It’s a politically risky proposition for a transit agency that doesn’t have the best track record for fiscal responsibility, but Oberman said Metra can no longer afford to "kick this can down the road and continue with cobbled-together solutions on an aging system."

If the plan is approved by Metra’s board of directors next month, the first and most severe fare hike would take place Feb. 1, 2015 and range from 10-8 percent to 18 percent, depending on the length of travel across Metra’s rail zones. Additional fare hikes in future years ranging from 3 percent to 8.5 percent are part of the plan. The sugar coating on this particularly bitter pill is a return of the “10-ride ticket” and extending acceptance of one-way tickets for 90 days, instead of the current 14.

Metra has raised its fares several times in recent years but those hikes, Oberman said, have not been adjusted for inflation and the average fares are still lower than those charged in other major metropolitan areas. Oberman, a former alderman, talked tough about what the rail agency is facing: $10 billion in maintenance and renewal work, much of that postponed for years. Oberman is taking a chance the straight talk will resonate with riders accustomed to delays and faulty equipment.

"We're leveling with riders and saying, 'This is what this is going to cost you.' " Oberman said.

Some of the cars in Metra’s fleet are over 30 years old. Oberman said the revenue from the hike will finance new cars that won’t be seen for at least another 2-1/2 to three years. Although there was some spirited debate about the plan, Metra’s board voted 10-1 to support the plan in principle. Now the debate over the details begins before the plan goes up for vote next month.