Metra, the commuter rail agency that serves Evanston, predicts only 50% of its’ pre-COVID ridership will return by the end of next year.

Metra has released its 2021 budget, which has $700 million for operations, and another $386 million for capital projects such as new equipment and station renovations.

The agency, which has been hit hard by COVID-related ridership decreases, expects passenger count to be only 20% of normal by the end of this year, and half of normal by the end of 2021. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Metra carried about 280,000 weekday passengers a day throughout the Chicago region.

Metra is not calling for service reductions or a fare increase yet. However, the agency also says it needs another $70 million next year, presumably in federal assistance, or cuts will have to take place. “Without more financial assistance,” said Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski, “We face some awful and extremely difficult choices.”

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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