Free commuter train trips out of Evanston and other suburbs are about to reach the end of the line.
The Union Pacific Railroad, which provides crews and operates three routes for Metra, the transit agency, will have its onboard employees resume collecting and selling tickets as of June 1. Conductors are making announcements on the train about the upcoming return to “tickets, please.”
In an emailed statement to Evanston Now, UP spokesperson Robynn Tysver says, “Union Pacific employees have been in the train throughout the pandemic. Due to vaccine availability, we believe now is the appropriate time to resume pre-pandemic onboard fare collections, effective June 1.” Safety, she says, “is our highest priority.”
Last year, UP, over Metra’s objections, had conductors and trainmen stop collecting tickets due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. UP cited health and safety reasons, even though the eight other lines operated by Metra or another contracting railroad (BNSF) were still handling fares onboard. Metra even sued UP for alleged breach of contract.
UP established a fare collecting booth at the Ogilvie Transportation Center in Chicago, to check tickets for passengers arriving in or departing from downtown only.
But even though crews were still on the train for safety, tickets were not collected for trips between intermediate stops, making it possible to ride, say, between Evanston and Kenosha without paying a nickel.
Metra ridership has plummeted 90% because of the pandemic, with far fewer commuters going downtown to work. The agency has not yet calculated how many passengers have ridden for free, nor how much revenue has been lost because of it. Metra spokesperson Mike Gillis says that will be figured out as part of the ongoing litigation.
There is also a separate dispute between UP and Metra, over how the three UP lines will be operated in the future. UP, primarily a freight carrier, wants out of running passenger trains, and wants Metra, not UP, to employ the crews.
Metra is not opposed in concept, but objects to UP’s proposed terms.
Evanston has three stations on the UP North line, Main Street, Davis Street, and Central Street.