The song “Ticket to Ride’ is once again appropriate onboard Metra commuter trains through Evanston.

Beginning tomorrow, June 1, train crews on board Metra’s Union Pacific North line, which serves Evanston, as well as UP crews on two other Metra routes, will resume selling and collecting tickets on the train.

UP had its conductors and trainmen stop handling tickets onboard last year, citing concerns over coronavirus. Employees on other Metra routes, who work for Metra itself or for the BNSF Railway, also stopped collecting fares when the pandemic began, but later resumed the practice. Only Union Pacific did not.

While the railroad continually maintained health issues were the reason (and vaccine availability makes it safe now), some railroad observers felt it might have been part of an ongoing dispute between UP and Metra, which is now in litigation.

Metra contracts with UP to operate trains. UP wants out of the passenger business, and says Metra, not the railroad, should employ the crews.

Metra agrees with the principle, but says UP’s terms are too costly.

There is also separate litigation over ticket revenue lost due to UP’s non-collection policy. Tickets were checked upon arrival at or departure from Oglivie Transportation Center in downtown Chicago. But anyone riding between one intermediate stop and another, say, Davis Street to Waukegan, rode for free.

Metra ridership has been increasing as the pandemic has diminished. Systemwide ridership for April 2021 was 284% above that of April 2020.

However, it is still significantly below pre-pandemic levels. In April 2019, Metra carried 6.2 million passengers. This April, it was only 730,000, an 88% drop.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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