Preliminary 2021 Metra budget doesn't include service cuts, but that could change

$70 million shortfall possible without additional federal aid, which would require 'difficult choices,' CEO says
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Metra says its 2021 operating budget includes no fare increase or service cuts, but that could change without an additional source of funding. Above, a Metra BNSF train arrives in Cicero, Ill., on Sept. 16, 2020.
TRAINS: David Lassen

CHICAGO — Metra has proposed a $700 million operating budget for 2021 that does not initially call for  fare increases or service cuts — but that could change if it does not receive additional funding from other sources, such as additional federal coronavirus relief.

The commuter railroad says the $700 million figure is based on projections of $336 million in sales-tax income, $206 million from the federal CARES act passed earlier this year, and $158 million in fare revenue. The fare figure is based on ridership projections of 20% of pre-COVID levels as 2021 begins and 50% by the end of the year. However, to maintain current service levels while accounting for inflation and contractual obligations, Metra would need $770 million.

“Without more financial assistance, we face some awful and extremely difficult choices, including cuts in service,” Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski said in a press release. “With our sister agencies in Chicago and across the country in the same predicament, we need to get the message out that public transportation will be severely curtailed without additional financial relief.”

Separately, the agency proposed a $386.4 million capital budget, including $69.9 million to continue its locomotive and car rehabilitation programs; $61.5 million for new rolling stock, specifically new railcars based on proposals Metra has received from manufacturers; $12.9 million for bridge replacement; $47.3 million for stations, and $34.9 million for equipment and vehicles.

A public hearing on the proposed budgets, as well as five-year financial and capital plans, will be held online on Nov. 5 from 4-7 p.m. Information for those wishing to participate is included in the press release.

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