Metra survey takes close look at fares, ridership

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CHICAGO — Metra should consider offering discounted fares for suburb-to-suburb travel as a way of boosting ridership and revenue, a survey has found.

Chicago’s commuter rail agency should also think about offering one-day passes and including Friday evenings as part of its popular weekend pass as tools to encourage ridership, Metra’s board of directors was told Wednesday.

The recommendations were among the findings from an on-line survey conducted during March. More than 10,000 responses were collected.

The survey was as part of a one-year contract to evaluate the agency’s distance-based fare structure and ticket policy as a basis for recommending ways to grow ridership and revenue. Metra’s board approved the $315,300 contract with California-based Four Nines Technologies in June 2016.

The survey found there were three primary reasons why more people did not ride Metra, which runs more than 700 trains and provides 300,000 passenger trips each weekday in Northeastern Illinois.

A significant percent of respondents said Metra was not a viable option because of the schedule and destinations served; or Metra was not needed for daily travel; or that ticket prices were too high.

Respondents did say Metra’s distance-based fare policy was fair and easy to understand.

The survey found that some riders would use different stations if the fare savings were large enough and the additional travel time was not prohibitive, said Four Nines Project Manager Cyndy Pollan.

The survey responses prompted Metra’s board to launch into a discussion of how the agency needs to adapt to evolving work patterns such as telecommuting.

Board member John Plante cited the survey finding that indicated that 34 percent of survey respondents said they did not commute daily, and 26 percent that said Metra “was no longer a viable option.”

“My nightmare is simply that … in the end we’re going to be taken over by technology and changing work habits,” Plante said. “To what extent does an entity like us remain viable?”

Metra Executive Director and CEO Don Orseno said the automobile is still Metra’s “biggest competitor,” he agreed that the agency needs to “look at the way we do business.”

Metra also ought to look back in time, to the days of Chicagoland’s interurban railroads, for lessons in boosting ridership, board Chairman Norman Carlson said.

Those interurbans, like the famed Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee Railroad, also known as the North Shore Line, carried many short-haul passengers, including students to schools, Carlson noted.

Metra should also focus on ways to develop more “intermediate riding, or what we
called town-to-town riding,” Carlson said.

The North Shore Line ended rail service in 1963, a victim of declining ridership.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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