Metra’s Board of Directors voted unanimously on Nov. 11 to approve a 2023 budget that includes keeping the popular $100 Super Saver monthly pass and both all-system and three-zone day passes until at least the end of next year.
The initial budget proposal called for Metra, the commuter rail service, to do away with the system-wide Super Saver pass in favor of returning to zone-based monthly passes. It also proposed replacing day passes with zone-based ones that would cost the equivalent of two one-way tickets.
The proposal drew backlash from several directors representing the collar counties and parts of suburban Cook County, who argued that returning to zone-based passes was the opposite of what Metra should be doing – making the fare system simpler and more user-friendly.
The changes had been designed to strike a balance between attracting riders and putting more money in Metra’s coffers with federal stimulus funding expected to run out in 2025. The commuter rail agency has been using those funds to make up for passenger revenue shortfalls.
Metra Chief Financial Officer John Morris told the board that if the status quo is maintained, it would add around $2 million a projected 2025 budget deficit. However, board members and staff agreed that this isn’t the last word on the fare changes as Metra continues to look for ways to attract riders.
At $100, Super Saver pass is cheaper than zone-based monthly passes in most lines, including all the lines serving the Landmark’s coverage area. The previously proposed fare changes would have lowered the cost to $88 a month for Brookfield and Riverside riders.
It would have also raised monthly pass prices for suburbs further out. While much of the backlash during the Oct. 12 meeting came from Metra directors representing the collar counties, Director Stephen Palmer, who represents most of west suburban Cook County, also argued against it, saying the Super Saver has been popular with his constituents.
Since the Super Saver pass was introduced in July, the sales of monthly passes increased every month. According to the Nov. 11 ridership report, as of October, sales more than tripled compared to June, going from 10,141 tickets to 30,703 tickets.
The sales of day passes have been dropping during the same period; however, as of October, they still accounted for 28.5 percent of all ticket sales, with 19.8 percent of all sales coming from the system-wide $10 day passes.
During the Nov. 11 meeting, Morris warned that a law requiring Metra to get at least 50 percent of its revenue from fares, which the state waived for three years at the start of the pandemic, will return in 2024.
Metra currently gets around 43.5 percent of its revenue from fares.
Now that Metra passed the budget, it will need to go before the Regional Transportation Authority Board of Directors for the final approval, typically a formality.