Union Pacific plan to collect fares met with concerns by Metra (revised and updated)

Citing health concerns, railroad will check for tickets at downtown Chicago station, but not on trains; Metra sees safety, contractual issues
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Metra Union Pacific trains await departure from the Ogilvie Transportation Center in downtown Chicago. UP will begin checking passengers for tickets at the station on Monday.
TRAINS: David Lassen

CHICAGO — Union Pacific will resume fare collection for its three Metra lines at its downtown Ogilvie Transportation Center as of Monday, Oct. 5, ending several months during which those three lines were the only portion of the 11-line Metra system not collecting fares from passengers. But Metra says it has “serious concerns about the safety, feasibility and effectiveness” of the UP plan.

The railroad says it will check fares by having passengers show tickets to UP employees in protective plexiglass booths when the passengers board outbound trains or disembark from inbound trains. UP says this is similar to how it has handled large-event crowds in the past.

In a press release, the railroad cites the death of two ticket agents earlier this year, and quotes Dr. Laura Gillis, the railroad’s chief medical officer: ““Union Pacific bases its decisions related to COVID-19 on science, as well as CDC, state and local guidance designed to protect employee and commuter health.”

A report in the Woodstock (Ill.) Independent notes that the measure does not address passengers whose trips do not begin or end at the Ogilvie Transportation Center, and quoted a UP spokeswoman as saying the railroad is asking Metra police to ride trains to provide fare enforcement. Union Pacific, in its release, says it has “repeatedly asked Metra to increase its police presence to address commuters’ safety concerns, as well as enforce ticketing and mask requirements. Responsibility for onboard passenger and public safety has been Metra’s responsibility for nearly three years.”

Metra, in a Friday afternoon response, says it fears the plan could not only inconvenience passengers but “possibly result in unsafe chokepoints” at the station. It also says the plan not fulfill UP’s obligation to collect all fares to sell and collect tickets, and that in not requiring conductors to walk through trains, it “not only results in a loss of revenue to the Metra system, but also results in the erosion of customer safety and security. … The conductor can quickly summon police if witnessing illegal and unsafe behavior, medical emergencies or passengers needing assistance.” The commuter agency adds that UP has offered “no specific health reason why its conductors cannot do what Metra and BNSF conductors do, and what workers across a broad spectrum of the economy do ± interact with customers, using masks, social distancing and other medical guidelines to protect them against COVID-19.”

Metra has said it has lost millions of dollars while UP was not collecting fares [see “Digest: Metra says it is losing $1 million a month …,” Aug. 26, 2020]. All Metra lines stopped collecting fares in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but other lines resumed fare collection in June. The fare-collection disagreement has played out at the same time as an ongoing dispute between the two entities over the future of Metra operations on the three UP lines [see “Judge denies Metra’s motion to dismiss UP suit …,” Aug. 28, 2020, and “STB denies Metra request for declaratory order,” Trains News Wire, Sept. 28, 2020]. “While Union Pacific continues to negotiate with Metra on a transfer of services,” the railroad said in its release, “its actions related to ticket sales and verification are strictly related to employee and commuter health and safety.”

Metra, meanwhile, says it “continues to consider its options to compel UP to fulfill its contractual obligations.”

— Updated at 1:30 p.m. with information from Union Pacific press release; updated and revised at 5:30 p.m. with Metra response.

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