Calling it the biggest proposed change to its fare structure in its 39-year history, Chicago’s commuter rail system is seeking to overhaul what it charges you to ride the train.
The goal is to increase ridership.
Metra wants to reduce the number of fare zones from 10 to four, which means lower prices for one way tickets to or from Evanston, and many other stops along Metra’s 11-route system.
Metra’s statement says “The new one-way fare from all zones” to or from Chicago “would be equal to or lower than the current one-way fare.”
For example, the one-way ride from Davis Street to Oglivie Transportation Center in downtown Chicago is currently $5.50.
Under the new plan, which takes effect in 2024 if approved by Metra’s board, that ticket drops to $3.75.
Also, “to encourage non-downtown trips, all One-Way Tickets for trips that do not include downtown would cost $3.75, no matter the distance.” For example, that would cut the cost of a one-way ride from Evanston to Waukegan roughly in half.
Currently, many Metra tickets are priced based on how many of the ten zones a passenger travels through.
Under the restructuring, Downtown Chicago becomes Zone 1, with Zones 2, 3, and 4 continuing as the routes get farther out.
Evanston’s three stations, Main Street, Davis Street, and Central Street would be in Zone 2.
Of course, not everyone uses one-way tickets, especially daily commuters.
Monthly passes would be priced at 20 times the cost of one-way. For Evanston, that would mean unlimited rides in a month for $75 vs.the current $100.
The $100 pass, introduced during COVID, would be discontinued, so the monthly cost would go above $100 for some localties in Zones 3 and 4. But, Metra says, the new monthly passes would cost less than they did before the pandemic.
Metra’s release says the goal is to create a fare structure that is easy to understand, encourage ridership, simplify onboard collection, and “meets Metra’s financial and technical considerations”
Metra CEO Jim Derwinski is quoted as saying, “As we continue to recover from the pandemic, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to change how we do business and create a better Metra for our customers.”
The release does not say whether the new structure would mean more revenue, less revenue, or be revenue neutral for the rail system.
That may depend on future ridership. While the number of passengers has been increasing quite a bit since the end of the pandemic, Metra is only averaging about half the six-million monthly riders it carried systemwide before COVID.