Tell Metra What You Think
The public can weigh in on Metra's proposed service cuts and fare hikes by responding to a survey through this week.
You can add your 2 cents worth—to a $100 million problem.
That's the opportunity offered by Metra with its online rider survey that will continue through this week.
"We want to get feedback from the public on some of the issues facing Metra and to help guide the board as it puts together its budget for 2012," Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said.
Metra is facing a $100 million deficit for 2012 and is contemplating fare increases and major service cuts. The sluggish economy has reduced the sales tax Metra receives from its six-county service area. And that won't get better soon. Metra projects the cumulative shortfall in sales tax revenues alone at $350 million from 2008 to 2013.The skyrocketing price of diesel fuel also is putting the squeeze on Metra. This year, diesel fuel will cost approximately $18.3 million more than budgeted. For 2012, Metra could need another $28 million for diesel fuel.
Metra has other financial problems.
It has been transferring money from the capital fund to operations, an unsustainable funding approach. And Metra is required by law to achieve 55 percent of its operating expenses through fares and other revenues. This, Metra says, can only be done by increasing fares and reducing service.
At its July 15 meeting, Metra's board proposed cutting two to four trains from every line except the Heritage Corridor (which has only six trains a day), reducing weekend service on Milwaukee North, Union Pacific North, and SouthWest Service and eliminating extra service for Bears and White Sox games.
With proposed service cuts, fare increases could go up 20 percent. Without service cuts, fare increases could be as much as 25 percent.
But before decisions on cuts and fare hikes are made, Metra decided to give the public a chance to voice its opinion through an online survey, available on Metra's Web site, metrarail.com.
"We'll compile the results and give them to the board,'' Gillis said. "The board will begin discussing the matter at its Aug. 12 meeting. The board will pass the 2012 budget in the next few months, and there will be a series of public hearings.''
Though the survey has been available for the public to take since July 25, Gillis said he can't say how many people have responded or what responses have been.
He urges everyone, not just Metra riders to take the survey. The survey consists of eight questions, some multiple choice, asking which Metra service the respondent uses and how often he or she uses it. The meat of the survey asks respondents to agree or disagree with a series of service and fare statements that posit fare hikes versus service cuts, fare hikes, with service cuts, etc.
There also is a question about household income. And there is an opportunity to sign up to be a member of customer research panels.
Metra is the commuter rail agency serving Cook, DuPage, Will, Lake, Kane and McHenry counties. It is the sister agency of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). Originally called the Commuter Rail Service Board, Metra was creates by the Illinois Legislature to oversee all commuter rail operation in those six counties and was charged with a broad range of responsibilities for fare and service levels, budgeting, capital programming, long-range planning and strategic service expansion.