The following are some questions and answers about changes to Metra's fare structure, prices, and purchase channels, which took effect Feb. 1, 2024. For the main website about the plan, click here.
Why change the fare structure?
The plan aims to create a fare structure that customers can easily understand, that will encourage ridership, that will simplify onboard fare collection, and that meets Metra’s financial and technical constraints.
What are the changes?
- Zones: The current 10 fare zones were replaced with four zones (see map below) for One-Way Tickets, weekday Day Passes and Monthly Passes and one zone for all weekend passes. Downtown stations are assigned to Zone 1 and outlying stations are assigned to Zones 2 through 4 based on a combination of distance from downtown, service patterns and ridership characteristics on each line, which vary.
- The 10-Ride Ticket: The 10-Ride Ticket was replaced with a new fare product, a Day Pass 5-Pack. The 5-Pack is available only on the Ventra app and is priced the same as the 10-Ride Ticket, at 9.5 times the cost of a One-Way Ticket. The passes in the 5-Pack do not have to be used on consecutive days; rather, they could be used on any five days in a 90-day period (10-Ride Tickets are valid for 90 days.) The 5-Pack could be shared by up to five people traveling together.
- Incremental Fares: “Incremental fares” – a surcharge paid to the conductor to travel beyond the zones indicated on their ticket – were discontinued. Riders are required to buy a ticket valid for the trip they are taking.
What are the new prices/rules for each fare product?
- One-Way Tickets to the downtown zone, Zone 1, cost $3.75 from Zone 2, $5.50 from Zone 3 and $6.75 from Zone 4. To encourage non-downtown trips, all One-Way Tickets for trips that do not include downtown as a starting point or destination cost $3.75, no matter the distance.
- One-Way Tickets purchased from vending machines expire three hours after purchase. One-Way Tickets bought in the Ventra app must be used within 14 days and once activated will expire in three hours. One-Way Tickets bought on the train from a conductor are valid for that trip.
- One-Way Tickets purchased on or before Jan. 31, 2024, will remain valid for 14 days after purchase.
- The weekday Day Pass is priced at twice the cost of a One-Way Ticket and is valid for unlimited rides for a single day within the zones selected. The $6 and $10 weekday Day Passes, introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic as a promotional fare, were discontinued.
- Day Passes purchased from vending machines expire at 3 a.m. on the day after purchase;
- Day Passes bought in the Ventra app must be used within 14 days and once activated will expire at 3 a.m. the next day.
- Day Passes purchased in the Ventra app on or before Jan. 31, 2024, will remain valid for 7 days after purchase.
- The 10-Ride Ticket was replaced with a Day Pass 5-Pack available only in the Ventra app.
- The Day-Pass 5-Pack is priced at 9.5 times a one-way fare.
- The Day Passes in the 5-Pack can be used on any five days within 90 days of purchase. Once activated, they expire at 3 a.m. the next day.
- The last day to purchase a 10-Ride Ticket was Jan. 31, 2024. Tickets purchased on or before that day will be valid for travel for 90 days after purchase. Ten-Ride Tickets are not refundable.
- A Monthly Pass is priced at 20 times the cost of a One-Way Ticket: $75 for Zone 2, $110 for Zone 3 and $135 for Zone 4. Monthly Passes covering trips that do not begin or end downtown (Zone 1) cost $75. This pricing is below the cost of pre-COVID Monthly Passes.
- The $100 flat-rate “Super Saver” Monthly Pass, introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic as a promotional fare, was discontinued.
- Passes can be used for unlimited travel between the zones selected on weekdays and anywhere in the system on weekends.
- Starting with the March pass, Metra will resume selling Monthly Passes on the 20th of the prior month.
- The $30 Regional Connect Pass is available to Monthly Pass buyers for unlimited rides on CTA and Pace in the Ventra app only.
- Buyers need to have a Ventra card registered in the app to which the pass can be added. Click here for instructions.
- The $7 Saturday, Sunday, or Holiday Day Pass is still available, and the $10 Weekend Pass is still available on the Ventra app only.
Yes, reduced fares are still available to the same groups that are now eligible for them – plus a new group – but the prices changed. Click the new fare chart here to see reduced fare rates for each fare product.
Reduced fare rates are still available for senior citizens 65 or older, customers with disabilities and Medicare cardholders who have a Reduced Fare Permit from the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA); K-12 students; and active duty military personnel. Click here to find more information about eligibility requirements. In addition, the new Access pilot began Feb. 1, offering reduced fares to low-income Metra riders regionwide. All Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipient household members living within the six-county region are eligible for the RTA-issued Access pilot reduced fare permit.
Those enrolled in the Illinois Circuit Breaker program with an RTA-issued Ride Free Circuit Permit, can ride free by displaying the permit.
Contact the RTA here to apply for permits.
Reduced fare riders can buy reduced fare tickets from vending machines, the Ventra app or conductors; they will be asked to show their permit or ID when using the ticket.
What happens to 10-Ride and other tickets purchased before Feb. 1, 2024?
All tickets purchased before that date will remain valid for travel until their normal expiration date. That means 10-Ride Tickets will remain valid for travel for 90 days after the date of purchase, One-Way Tickets will remain valid for travel for 14 days after purchase, Day Passes will remain valid for travel for seven days after purchase, and Saturday/Sunday/Holiday Day Passes and Weekend Passes purchased in the Ventra app will remain valid for 14 days after purchase.
Why did you close ticket windows?
The point-of-sale credit card machines at our staffed stations were nearing the end of their useful life and would have had to be replaced at great cost. We decided it made more sense to invest that money in vending machines, because vending machines are available at all times – unlike agents, who are generally only available in the morning rush periods. This also give us the opportunity to extend purchasing options by installing machines in additional stations that do not currently have agents. We are repurposing some of the ticket agents as customer service representatives to help customers use the machines and to provide other travel information. See here for a list of stations with vending machines.
How does the plan consolidate the zones?
Downtown stations are assigned to Zone 1 and outlying stations are assigned to Zones 2 through 4 based on a combination of distance from downtown, service patterns and ridership characteristics on each line, which vary. Generally, stations within or close to Chicago are in Zone 2, stations in an intermediate service zone are in Zone 3, and remaining stations are in Zone 4.
How did you decide where to put the borders between zones?
The zone borders are not strictly based on mileage. Rather, we used a combination of service patterns, distance from downtown, and ridership characteristics on each line, which vary.
Specifically, why did you put the border before Palatine/Downers Grove Main St./Tinley Park 80th?
- between Arlington Park and Palatine on the UP Northwest Line?
- between Fairview and Downers Grove Main St. on the BNSF Line?
- between Tinley Park Oak Park Ave. and Tinley Park 80th Ave. on the Rock Island Line?
Many lines have service patterns for local and express trains, and we used those patterns to guide some of the new zone breaks. For instance, if you look at the BNSF Line schedule, there is a set of trains in the morning rush serving Aurora to Downers Grove Main Street and expressing in, so those stations were assigned to Zone 4, and a second set serving Fairview to Congress Park and expressing in, so those stations were assigned to Zone 3. With Union Station assigned to the downtown Zone 1, that left the remaining stations on the line to be assigned to Zone 2. Similarly, on the UP Northwest Line, there is a set of trains serving Harvard to Palatine, so that became Zone 4, and an intermediate set serving Arlington Park to Des Plaines, so that became Zone 3. On the Rock Island Line, 80th Ave. has express service and Oak Park Ave. does not. We used similar reasoning on other lines. This approach matches cost to service and helps with fare collection during busy periods, because conductors will generally only have to look for the one zone pair on all tickets on each train. On lines without such service patterns, such as the North Central Service, geography was a factor as we tried to match stations on the line to nearby stations on other lines. And some of our considerations were guided by our need to avoid disparately impacting minority and low-income communities.
Why are downtown stations in their own zone?
This allows us to encourage non-downtown trips by charging one flat rate – $3.75 for a One-Way Ticket – for all trips that do not originate from or arrive at a downtown station.
How did you determine the fares for each zone?
There were a variety of factors considered:
- First, we wanted to make sure we hit our budget target. For 2024, that target was our calculation of what our current system would generate if we left it in place without changes. In other words, we want to collect with the new system about the same amount we’d collect with the old system.
- Secondly, we wanted to keep fares at our below pre-COVID levels from all stations, because we are still trying to nurture ridership growth.
- We wanted to incorporate what we’ve learned about post-COVID ridership patterns. For instance, we priced the Monthly Pass at 20x the one-way fare to make it appealing to someone going to the office two to three days a week.
- We wanted to keep the differences in costs between zones to a minimum while still meeting our budget needs.
- And we had to consider federal Title VI regulations, which pertain to how service and fare changes impact low income and minority populations.
With all those factors in mind, we studied scores of permutations of various costs and arrived at the one that we feel best meets all of our considerations.
What impact would this have on the Fair Transit South Cook pilot?
The Fair Transit South Cook pilot, which allows all riders on the Metra Electric and Rock Island lines to pay the reduced fare rate for tickets, ended Jan. 31, 2024. It was replaced with the Access Pilot Program, which allows reduced fares for low-income riders on all lines. All Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipient household members living within the six-county region are eligible for the Access pilot. To apply, click here.
Ten-Ride Tickets bought under the pilot will remain valid for 90 days from the date of purchase, and One-Way Tickets bought under the pilot will remain valid for 14 days from the date of purchase.
Why does the plan replace the 10-Ride Ticket with a Day Pass 5-Pack that is only available in the Ventra app?
- We know from our Ventra app data that most people who buy a 10-Ride Ticket use it for just two trips a day.
- The Day Pass allows the same travel while adding an extra benefit to those who take more than two trips a day, such as anyone transferring between two Metra lines.
- Day Passes align better within our current fare collection system:
- They reduce the possibility of missed fare collection.
- With this change, every fare product is now time-limited, which is something that can’t be done with paper tickets.
- Day Passes on the app can be validated with visual inspection, which helps meet our goal of simplifying onboard fare collection.
- A bundle of paper passes presents an onboard fare collection complication that a 5-Pack of mobile passes does not: passes in the app can be programmed to expire on the day they are activated, but we would need to punch a paper day pass on the day it is used, and there would have to be some way to indicate the day it is punched (in a way that is easily visible to the conductor) so it remains valid for that day but no longer. (Single day paper passes are sold with the day of sale indicated on the ticket, but we would not be able to do that with a pack of paper passes because we wouldn’t know the days when riders intend to use each of them.)
We use the 10-Ride Ticket when traveling in a group. Will we still be able to do that with the Day Pass 5-Pack?
Yes, you can activate more than one Day Pass at a time – all five of them, if you want.
Why did you discontinue the $6 and $10 Day Passes and the $100 “Super Saver” Monthly Pass?
The $6 and $10 Day Passes and the $100 “Super Saver” Monthly Pass were introduced as promotional fares to rebuild ridership after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why not just have one flat fare, like the CTA?
If we priced our service at a flat rate that is similar to the CTA’s fare, we would not meet our budget needs. And to meet our budget needs, the flat rate would have been a major fare increase for many riders.
Why did you eliminate “incremental” fares?
We eliminated incremental fares – a surcharge paid to the conductor to cover travel beyond the zones indicated on your ticket – because one of our goals is to simplify onboard fare collection. Selling incremental fares slows down fare collection for conductors.
Does this new fare structure address the “fiscal cliff” that Metra is facing in 2026?
No. A little background for those who are unaware of the fiscal cliff: Before COVID happened, we were required by state law to pay for half of our operating budget with fare revenue. The other half was covered by revenue from a regional transportation sales tax and some state subsidies.
After COVID dramatically reduced our ridership and fare revenue, two things happened: First, Springfield temporarily waived the requirement that we cover half our operating costs with fares, and second, Washington provided us (and mass transit across the country) with generous subsidies to keep the lights on and trains running.
That is still the situation today. This year, fares will pay for about 25 percent of our operating costs. The rest will be covered by the transportation sales tax revenue and continued federal aid. We expect a similar situation in 2025. In 2026, however, the federal aid runs out – hence the fiscal cliff.
We expect the fare revenue that the new plan will generate this year and in 2025 will still fall far short of covering half of our costs and we will still need to rely on the federal aid. In the meantime, a state-created body has recommended funding solutions to the Legislature.
What are you doing with the higher fares?
We estimate that this proposal will generate only slightly more fare revenue than if we stick with 2023's fare structure and prices (and much less than was generated by our pre-COVID fares, which were much higher). That revenue won't allow us to do or buy anything extra – it will help us cover increases in our costs due to inflation and use slightly less federal relief (see above question) next year, hopefully helping to allow that relief to last until alternative funding is secured. A state-created body is currently studying the issue and is expected to recommend funding solutions before that federal aid runs out in 2026.