Q. Why are you proposing to change the schedule for the Metra Electric Line?
This new schedule is an effort to make the best use of our existing resources by scheduling our trains in a more efficient way and enhancing service without impacting our budget.
Metra Electric Line ridership is down 1.4 million passenger trips or nearly 14 percent over the past six years. That’s 61 percent of the total decline in ridership systemwide since 2011. We clearly need to do something to stem the losses.
Q. What are the benefits of these proposed schedule changes?
The revised schedule adjusts service to better reflect ridership demands and anticipated development in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, where more than 1,700 residential units have been planned or recently constructed. The proposed schedule will generally provide train service every 20 minutes or less between Millennium Station and all three Hyde Park stations (51st/53rd Street, 55th/56th/57th Street and 59th Street) until 7 p.m. on weekdays.
In addition, the proposed schedule improves midday service to hourly from every two hours at stations on the South Side of Chicago between 63rd and Kensington, including the newly rehabilitated 111th St./Pullman Station near the Pullman National Monument.
Other proposed changes address gaps in service and simplify the schedule and stop patterns. For instance, the proposed schedule eliminates a nearly one-hour gap between Train 742, which leaves University Park at 5:48 a.m., and train 700, which leaves University Park at 6:40 a.m. Train 106, which now leaves University Park at 6:34 a.m., is inserted between those two trains and departs University Park at 6:12 a.m. Schedules of others trains are adjusted to accommodate customers using Train 106’s current schedule.
Q. Are you eliminating trains?
After a great deal of consideration and review, we are proposing a reduction to Saturday and some weekday train service due to extremely light ridership. While reducing service is always difficult, we moved forward with this recommendation after a review indicated that there are alternative public transportation options to serve the few customers impacted by these proposed reductions, including a variety of CTA and Pace buses. In addition, Metra’s Rock Island Line is an alternative for some Blue Island Branch customers.
Q. How many customers will be impacted by the elimination of trains?
The new schedule eliminates or combines lightly used trains, mostly on the Blue Island and South Chicago branches. Ridership on the impacted trains is extremely light. In fact, inbound Saturday Blue Island Branch trains have fewer than 100 total passengers all day from Blue Island Branch stations, or an average of about six passengers per train.
Not counting Trains 330, 331 and 604 (which have alternative trains available), the weekday Blue Island and South Chicago Branch trains we propose eliminating carry an average of fewer than 10 passengers per day, with many carrying just one to two passengers per day. The most used train we propose eliminating carries 25 passengers.
Q. Do these changes place an unfair burden on branch line customers?
We don’t believe so, since we based our proposal to eliminate trains mainly on ridership. The fact is, very few people are riding these trains.
The Blue Island and South Chicago Branches have seen ridership decline 17.5 and 11.2 percent, respectively, over the past three years. However, recent data indicates that ridership at the three Hyde Park stations has grown by 7.6 percent over the past three years. We believe that Hyde Park’s recent growth and planned development points to the need for expanded service in the area.
Q. What other factors did you consider in making these changes?
There are some other considerations that went into the development of the new proposed schedule, such as equipment cycles and transfer opportunities. Ultimately, our goal is to stem the loss of ridership on the Metra Electric Line, which has been declining for years despite the fact that the line has the newest cars and most scheduled trains on our system.
Q. Are you expanding service to accommodate the new Obama Presidential Center?
That remains an option for the future. Our plan is to continue to align Metra service to match demand as the Obama Presidential Center is completed in the coming years.
Q. Are you moving these eliminated trains to other parts of the Metra system?
No. The equipment used on the Metra Electric is unique to the line and cannot be deployed elsewhere on our system.
Q. Are you planning to add more service along the entire Metra Electric Line?
Metra has no funding to pay for additional service on the Metra Electric or any of our other lines at this time. However, in the years to come, Metra will continue to refine the Metra Electric Line schedule based on changing demand in the service area.
Q. What is the impact of your fare increases over the last few years on Metra Electric ridership?
There are a variety of factors that influence ridership, including gas prices, employment trends and the cost of fares. Certainly, higher fares are a factor, but it is not possible to determine a specific impact. At any rate, our fare structure is reviewed each year during our annual budget process as we seek to balance our projected costs with our funding resources. Metra is required by law to maintain a balanced budget and has no funding to allow lower fares at this time.
Q. Can you lower fares on the Metra Electric to compete with the CTA?
In the interest of fairness to all of Metra’s customers, that’s not an option Metra is likely to pursue. Metra sets fares on a regional basis. If we lowered fares on one of Metra’s lines without lowering them on others, then other customers from across our six-county service area would be subsidizing reduced fares on the Metra Electric.