Metra launches 'Commute with Confidence' campaign

With ridership at less than 10% of normal, Chicago commuter operator will advertise as part of effort to attract passengers
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A conductor checks the platform, but no passengers are boarding or getting off this Metra UP West line train at La Fox, Ill., on Sept. 4, 2020. Metra is launching a "Commute with Confidence" campaign to lure riders.
TRAINS: David Lassen

CHICAGO — With ridership at less than 10% of normal levels due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Metra is launching a campaign to convince the public that commuting by train is a safe option.

The “Commute with Confidence” program will use a variety of media to encourage traditional customers to return to Metra’s 11 lines, as well as seek new ridership, according to Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski.

“Metra is an asset to the entire region. It affects millions of people every day,” Derwinski said at a press conference Tuesday at the agency’s Western Avenue Coach Yard. “People have a lot of questions. … The big one is how does Metra handle COVID? We’re here to tell you about that today.”

The public awareness effort, including a $967,000 advertising campaign, will emphasize steps the agency is taking to foster a safe experience for its customers, officials said. Those include a “deep cleaning” of its more than 1,000 railcars this past spring and summer, along with daily cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting, with the help of new equipment and new cleaning methods. 

In recent weeks, Metra ridership has been averaging about 25,000 riders a day, compared to as many as 270,000 daily riders during pre-COVID-19 times, said Bruce Marcheschi, chief operating officer. 

The agency has been able to stabilize its finances with an infusion of about $480 million in federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed in March. The funds should carry the agency through the middle of 2021, Derwinski said.

The agency said it is cleaning Metra-maintained stations multiple times a week, paying special attention to disinfecting high-touch surfaces. Extra crews have been added to increase the cleaning and disinfecting of downtown stations. Metra has also asked the municipalities or other entities that maintain the stations in their communities to do the same.

Other safety protocols include requiring that passengers wear masks for the duration of the ride, providing sufficient room for riders to spread out, and giving them adequate time to board and disembark to avoid crowding. Additionally, the campaign highlights Metra’s use of hospital-grade air filters and new touchless hand sanitizer dispensers in each car.

Metra also has created a new “ridership dashboard” showing the number of people using each train so riders can decide which trains to use.

As ridership grows, Metra will add cars to trains and add trains to the schedule to allow for passengers to physically distance as much as and as long as possible.

Metra has resumed accepting cash as payment for fares at ticket windows and on trains, but the agency said it strongly encourages passengers to buy their tickets with the Ventra app to limit interactions between crews and passengers. Checks are no longer accepted onboard trains. Metra is also offering a $10 All-Day Pass. 

Derwinski said Metra hopes the campaign will allay the public’s fears about commuting during the pandemic. “We stand here with open doors to welcome riders back and invite new riders in,” he said.

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