A Message from the Chief Executive Officer on behalf of the Metra Board of Directors and Staff
Keeping Our Community Connected In The Midst Of A Crisis
While the global pandemic has changed many things, one thing has remained unchanged: Metra’s commitment to the commuters and communities we serve. From the beginning of the crisis to today, Metra never stopped running. We couldn’t. The essential role we play in the lives of our citizens and the economy of our region is simply too important.
For over three decades, with 11 lines and 242 stations, Metra has moved millions of riders across our system annually, providing a safe and reliable way to go from home to work and home again. Businesses large and small benefit from the dependable service we provide to their workers and consumers. And, wherever you find a Metra station in communities across our region, you will find economic growth and opportunity.
In 2020, we faced the greatest challenge our agency has ever met. And, we responded.
Responding to a Crisis
Adapting to the pandemic meant that Metra would have to adopt new ways of safeguarding our riders. First and foremost, we have carefully followed the guidance of the CDC and health officials. We have shared information and insights with other transit agencies. We have conducted research studies. And we have put all that we have learned into practice.
- We have instituted new and stringent cleaning and safety procedures across our system
- We deep clean, disinfect and sanitize trains and stations daily
- We have instituted policies promoting physical distancing
- We have made mask or face coverings mandatory
- Onboard, we have installed touchless hand sanitizer dispensers on all cars
- Online, we have created a ridership dashboard showing the number of people on each train so riders can make informed decisions about which trains to use
- We developed programs to encourage the use of the Ventra app for touchless ticketing
- We have adjusted schedules to meet current transportation needs and are ready to respond as more riders return
The Challenges Ahead
The sales tax and fare box revenues that fund Metra and the region’s other transit agencies have plummeted during the pandemic. Metra received $479.2 million from the federal government through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stimulus (CARES) Act. Through careful management of expenses, including service adjustments, we believe that we can provide stable funding for our system through early to mid-2021. However, after that point, available funding could run out.
Despite projecting cost savings related to lower service levels, Metra’s 2021 Budget proposes an additional $70 million in yet-to-be identified cost savings to balance the budget and satisfy our 52.5 percent recovery ratio requirement. Over the 2021-2023 plan period, operating expenses are $570 million lower than pre-pandemic levels; constrained by expected lower levels of fare revenues and sales tax receipts. If Metra does not receive additional federal assistance, drastic actions impacting service will be required in 2021 and beyond.
If Illinois is to recover economically, if job growth is to be restored, and if essential services are to be maintained, this must not be allowed to happen.
Committed to Not Raising Fares
In response to possible financial shortfalls, Metra has begun examining our core business functions. Our goal is to identify and pursue all possible efficiencies, including reductions in employee headcounts through attrition and a possible early retirement and voluntary buyout program.
However, our budget crisis cannot be resolved simply through changes in headcount. And it will not be solved through fare increases: We will not raise fares in 2021.
What we are trying to avoid is being forced to significantly reduce the level of service we provide. Cutting service is not a decision we take lightly, but it may be the only path open to us without additional assistance in sustaining our essential operations.
You Have A Role To Play
We are asking you, our riders and citizens, whose fares and tax dollars support our essential services, to consider what Metra means to you and to support calls for more assistance to maintain and enhance public transit operations.
It is important that we all remember that reliable, affordable and frequent public transportation is essential to our region’s economic health and recovery. You don’t need to ride Metra to benefit from the service we provide. By taking cars off the road, Metra helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improving air quality for everyone. By reducing traffic congestion, we reduce the burden on local roads. And, as previously stated, Metra creates economic activity around each of our 242 stations.
The Way Forward
Metra has already put into place stringent safety protocols to protect our passengers and employees. As the region moves toward recovery, our goal is not simply restoring pre-pandemic service as riders return in large numbers. We are reexamining and reevaluating the service we provide to deliver an even better value and greater convenience to our riders.
In 2021, Metra will be focusing on moving forward with capital projects. The state of Illinois’ capital program passed by Governor J.B. Pritzker and the Legislature in 2019 provides funds that will allow us to rehabilitate our existing passenger fleet as well as purchase newer equipment. We will also use Rebuild Illinois funds to replace aging bridges, signal systems and key equipment, as we increase the number of stations that we rehabilitate each year.
Commute With Confidence on My Metra
As part of our effort to bring people back to our service, we have launched the My Metra campaign. Initially, this campaign is designed to educate riders on the measures we have implemented to keep them safe. If our region is to recover economically, people need to know that they can Commute with Confidence aboard our trains.
But, in the long term, the goal of My Metra is to remind people that Metra truly belongs to them – we want them to think of Metra the way they think of my car or my home. When you consider that Metra belongs to the people of our region, that its service is indispensable in the ongoing well-being of our communities, and that it will play a crucial role in the reopening of our economy, it truly is My Metra for all of us.
We encourage our riders and the region’s taxpayers to read this 2021 operating budget and capital program so they can understand the scope and ambition of our plans and the challenges we will confront together in the year ahead. We need your input as we move forward. You can provide feedback by either sending us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or participating in public hearings.
At the beginning, during the darkest days, and up to now, Metra has kept running during the pandemic and difficult times of 2020. We were there for first responders, healthcare workers and others who could not shelter in place. And we are there for you.
While the future may seem uncertain, there is one thing you can be sure of: we’ll keep running. And, as the pandemic fades, we will emerge stronger and smarter to better serve the transportation needs of our region. We encourage you to share your ideas and we welcome your involvement in our mission, the mission of My Metra.
James M. Derwinski - CEO/Executive Director