Union Pacific West Line's outbound Metra train races past the Oak Park/Lake Green Line 'L' station | Credit: Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter

Metra is proposing the most significant fare overhaul in decades — one that would reduce ticket prices for Oak Park and River Forest commuters and get rid of popular system-wide day and monthly passes.

Under the proposed fare changes, which the Metra Board of Directors will vote on in August, the commuter rail system would go from 10 fare zones to four and create a flat $3.75 fare for riders whose trip doesn’t begin or end at Union Station and other downtown terminals. Metra would eliminate its $10 system-wide day pass and $6 day pass that’s good for three specific fare zones, replacing them with a zone-based one-day pass that would cost the equivalent of two one-way tickets. The 10-Ride tickets, which allow riders to make 10 one-way trips for the price of nine, would be replaced with a Ventra-only “Bundle” of five-day passes that would cost the equivalent of 9.5 one-way tickets.

Most notably, the changes would replace the $100 system-wide monthly pass with fare-zone-based monthly passes that would cost the equivalent of 16 one-way tickets.

All those changes would represent a price decrease for Oak Park and River Forest riders. The price of one-way tickets to and from the Ogilvie Transportation Center would go down from $4.25 to $3.75, and the monthly pass would cost $75.

According to Metra’s May 2023 ridership trends report, as of May 2023, 20% of all riders used 10-ride tickets and 23% of all riders used day passes, with the majority of day-pass users using the system-wide day pass, whereas 33% used monthly passes, and only 18% used one-way tickets.

The changes come as Metra is facing a fiscal cliff as federal stimulus funds are expected to run out in 2026. The proposal tries to strike a balance between attracting more riders, especially those who don’t follow traditional suburb-to-downtown commuting patterns, while putting more money in Metra’s coffers. Ridership is still trailing 2019 pre-pandemic numbers. Union Pacific West Line, for example, averages out half of the pre-pandemic ridership, except for reverse commuters, which stand at 76% of pre-pandemic ridership, and weekend riders. The line’s Sunday ridership is higher than it was pre-pandemic, and Saturday ridership stands at 72%.

Last year, Metra proposed eliminating unlimited monthly passes and day passes, but backed down after opposition from the Metra directors representing the collar counties and some parts of suburban Cook County. The changes would have raised fares for the collar counties, and the directors argued that Metra shouldn’t get rid of popular monthly passes and should instead simplify the fare structure. This year’s changes would result in less drastic increases for the collar counties and address some of the directors’ earlier concerns.

Metra is currently soliciting feedback on its fare proposal. For more details, and to submit comments, visit https://metra.com/2024FarePlan

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Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Growing Community Media newspapers in 2012, then from 2015...