Jeff Ward: Metra Will Raise Fares By 30%—If It Can Collect Them! It's 'Government Stupidity Gone Wild'
It's a soap opera, really. What's next? Throwing little old ladies from moving trains?
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did!
It wasn’t bad enough that their former director absconded with nearly half a million dollars. It wasn't bad enought that the board members, who failed to implement any kind of oversight, spent another $2.5 million just to determine how he did it. Then they refused to resign until Springfield threatened their sponsors with political death.
And once those incompetent board members were finally forced out, the inept Metra management folks actually had the nerve to announce, “By the way. We’ve been borrowing money from our capital fund to pay operating expenses and, since that’s no longer sustainable, we’re facing a $100 million 2012 buget shortfall.”
Nope! Apparently none of that was embarrassing enough for Metra because we’ve just learned our soap-opera-prone train line hasn’t been collecting all the fares.
That's right! In yet another case of the truth being so much stranger that fiction, and after many of the 7,000 commuters who answered an online survey complained of conductors’ failure to collect fares, Metra finally decided to do something about it. And that something is to ask riders to do it for them.
Yes! They’ve fired the first volley in their “Be fair, pay the fare” campaign by posting signs in every car encouraging commuters to rat out lazy conductors. Funny, I don’t seem to recall ever receiving a Metra paycheck.
Then CEO Alex Clifford actually had the nerve to say this; “One of the things we ought to do to reduce the impact of fare increases is to make sure we collect the fares that we’re supposed to collect,” as reported on Fox News and many others.
Ya think? Isn’t that a wee bit like the pilot telling passengers, “Once I learn to fly this thing we’ll take off?” And isn’t the CEO supposed to be the cream of the crop?
And yes, dear readers. You read that right: “fare increases!” In the never-ending “All My Commuter Trains” soap opera, Metra is proposing a 30 percent fare increase. Of course, my first thought was, “What difference will that make when you’re not collecting them to begin with?
Metra spokesperson Michael Gillis told the Kane County Chronicle that the hike was necessary to offset the looming 65 percent budget deficit. He also said that drawing operating funds from the capital budget was not a “sound long-term strategy.”
Ya think? Maybe that’s why they didn’t advertise that particular form of budgetary insanity until they couldn't hide it from the public. Personally, I think Clifford and Gillis missed their calling as a comedy team.
Despite the fact that I’ve already said this twice before, I’m going to be foolish enough to say it a third time; “Can this possibly get any worse?” I think I’m on safe ground at this point, because it would take something like throwing a little old lady off a moving train, or removing the gates from their busiest crossings to top their previous handiwork.
I've read more than 100 articles on this subject and, aside from that original addled board, I haven’t heard of a single member of this incompetent management team being fired. I haven’t heard anyone propose salary cuts, benefit reductions or administrative staff cuts to reduce this deficit.
Oh! They’ll propose train crew and service reductions, but they seem to think this series of self-imposed disasters came out of nowhere. Apparently, working for a government-subsidized entity means never having to say you're sorry.
Considering Metra’s fares are half of other major metropolitan rail lines, a 30 percent fare hike seems eminently reasonable. But the problem is, in their headlong flight to screw up, they haven’t even begun to make the effort to restore the confidence necessary to trust them with another dime.
Why should we throw good money after bad?
And now for the surprise twist that you’d expect from any good soap opera saga.
Here’s a perfect example of a government-supported agency run amok. This is a clear case of a taxpayer-backed company never having to face consequences for their failures. Since we pay 40 percent of Metra’s bottom line whether we take those trains or not, it's a perfect example of socialism at its best.
And tell me, where are all my Illinois Tea Party friends in all of this?
Here’s a situation where every malfeasance I’ve mentioned runs counter to their less-government, less-spending and anti-socialist agenda. Here’s something that’s happening right here in their own back yard. Here’s a scenario where, if the Tea Party brought their numbers and organizational expertise to bear, they could cow county and Springfield leaders into cleaning house.
Instead, their silence is deafening. Instead, they haven’t lifted a finger. Instead, they embrace deadbeat dads like Congressman Joe Walsh and focus all their vitriol and righteous indignation on the president.
Before we give Metra another penny, I want to see the new board fire some folks in high places. I want to see them set the kind of standards that make any repeat budgetary performance impossible. I want to see them beg the taxpayers’ forgiveness for previous transgressions, and propose a specific plan to regain our trust.
But most of all, I want them to make darn sure I don’t have to write about Metra a fourth time.