Metra today proposed a $900 million operating budget for 2022 that makes conservative assumptions about ridership growth but funds the restoration of service to pre-pandemic levels. To incentivize short trips and attract more customers, the agency is proposing to test a new $6 Day Pass that will be valid for unlimited rides within three zones for a full day. There is no proposed fare increase.
The board also approved a nearly $263 million capital budget.
“After nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, there remains a great deal of uncertainty about how and when things will return to normal,” said Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski. “We feel the most responsible approach is to be cautious with our assumptions about the growth in ridership while at the same time ramping up our service, so we are ready when My Metra riders are ready.”
The budget assumes Metra will begin the year with ridership at about 25% of pre-pandemic levels and finish the year at about 35%. That conservative assumption for ridership growth results in a projection of $146.4 million from fares and other system-generated revenues. The $900 million budget also uses $458.8 million in revenues from the regional transportation sales tax and $202 million in federal COVID relief funding. Metra is requesting an additional $92.8 million in COVID relief funding from the RTA, which is responsible for distributing the third round of federal aid.
The $900 million in projected expenses is a significant increase from the $773.6 million Metra estimates it will spend by the end of this year. The increase is mostly attributable to the planned restoration of service to levels at or near pre-pandemic levels on all 11 lines. Currently, service is at about 80% of normal, though it varies by line. Inflationary and contractual costs, including health care, utilities, insurance, are also contributing.
The new $6 Day Pass, valid for unlimited travel all day between three zones or less, will be offered as a one-year pilot program in addition to the current $10 Day Pass, which is valid for unlimited travel all day across all 10 fare zones. The three-zone pass will be a more affordable option for shorter and intermediate trips, such as between suburbs or between Chicago neighborhoods, and could also be useful for college students commuting to class. Both day passes will be available only in the Ventra app, and the Round Trip Plus Ticket will be discontinued.
“With the new Day Pass, we want to provide our riders with value and the flexibility they need right now,” Derwinski said. “We are committed to rebounding from the pandemic and giving our riders schedules that accommodate their needs so that My Metra remains the region’s safest and most efficient transportation option.”
Other fare changes include reducing the expiration dates on the 10-Ride Ticket from one year to 90 days and on the One-Way Ticket from 90 days to 14 days. The changes would begin Feb. 1, 2022. Metra is currently exploring additional fare initiatives to meet the evolving needs of a post-COVID environment.
Metra also detailed a 2022 capital budget of nearly $263 million that continues significant investment in railcars, locomotives, bridges and stations. The work includes:
- $42.8 million for rolling stock, primarily rehabilitations and upgrades to current cars and locomotives
- $46.2 million for bridges, track and structure
- $50.6 million for signal, electrical and communications
- $33.4 million for facilities and equipment
- $59.4 million for stations, primarily rehabilitations and replacements to existing stations, platforms, shelters and elevators
- $30.5 million for support activities
The 2022 capital program is funded by $181.6 million in federal formula funds, $75.8 million from the state and $5.5 million from the RTA.
Public hearings about the budget will be held throughout the region on Nov. 3 and 4. In addition, a virtual public hearing will be held on Nov. 3 between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. The public hearing schedule, and instructions for attending the virtual hearing and for submitting budget comments via mail, email or voicemail, can be viewed here.