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New fare structure unveiled in Metra’s 2024 budget

November 16, 2023

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This guest blog was written by Metra CEO/Executive Director James Derwinski. Learn more about the proposed 2024 Regional Transit Operating Budget and Capital Program and submit a comment before December 7, 2023, here.

Metra’s $1.1 billion operating budget for 2024 includes the most significant revision to its fare structure since the agency’s creation 40 years ago. This revision aims to create a fare structure that’s easy to understand, that encourages ridership, that simplifies onboard fare collection, and that meets Metra’s financial and technical constraints.

Under the new structure, fares will be equal to or lower than they were in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. Major changes include:

  • Replacing the existing 10-zone distance-based structure with a simplified four-zone structure;
  • Discontinuing the promotional the $6- and $10-Day Passes and $100 Super Saver Monthly Pass;
  • Lowering the cost of the Monthly Pass to 20 times the cost of a One-Way Ticket;
  • Replacing the 10-Ride Ticket with a Day Pass 5-Pack available only in the Ventra app;
  • Discontinuing “incremental fares” – a surcharge to travel beyond the zones indicated on a ticket.
  • Full details can be found at

Additionally, as the South Cook Fair Transit pilot ends after three years, Metra is partnering with Cook County and the RTA to propose a new 18-month pilot called ‘Access’ that will offer reduced fares to eligible low-income riders across the region, including on the Metra Electric and Rock Island lines.

Metra’s 2024 operating budget is 4.9% higher than the 2023 budget (excluding $65 million in added costs that will be reimbursed by Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, or NICTD). The increase is largely driven by inflationary (general, medical premiums, fuel, insurance) and contractual (union agreements) increases.

The operating budget projects Metra will start the year at 47% of prepandemic (2019) ridership and finish the year at about 54% of prepandemic levels. With this projected ridership increase, Metra expects $243.9 million in system-generated revenues, mostly fares in 2024. To cover the rest of its budgeted operating costs, Metra will use $560.4 million in regional sales taxes and $223.7 million in federal COVID-relief funding.

Metra’s vision to evolve toward a regional rail model – characterized by more frequent all-day service – was included in Metra’s newly adopted strategic plan, My Metra, Our Future. Metra has already rolled out new post-pandemic schedules with better frequencies, consistent stopping patterns, and an emphasis on off-peak service, and any schedule changes in 2024 will be made with those concepts in mind. In addition, Metra has two studies underway to help guide its evolution: a Route Restoration Study that is using big data to examine travel patterns and guide changes that can be accomplished with existing infrastructure, and a Systemwide Network Plan that will identify infrastructure changes needed to further aid the transition.

Metra and the region’s other transit agencies – the RTA, CTA, and Pace – are projecting that COVID-relief funding will run out in 2026, creating a “fiscal cliff.” Additional funding sources must be found, or public transportation agencies must implement other budget-balancing actions in 2026 to cover the anticipated deficit. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, at the request of the Legislature, has issued options for addressing the deficit and meeting other challenges; click here to learn more.

Metra also approved a $574.9 million capital budget that continues significant investment in railcars, bridges, and stations. The capital budget funds 97 projects throughout the system. About 63% of the budget will fund work in four categories:

  • Bridge and retaining wall replacement and rehabilitation: $143.8 million;
  • Stations and parking Rehabilitations: $77.5 million;
  • Yard improvements, including facility acquisitions: $71.1 million;
  • Railcar rehabilitation $67.6 million.

The capital budget is funded by:

  • $252.1 million in federal formula funding;
  • $117 million USDOT Mega grant for Union Pacific North Line bridges;
  • $73.8 million in Illinois PAYGO funds;
  • $130 million in RTA bonds;
  • $2 million in RTA Section 5310 funds.

For more information, see the 2024 Regional Operating Budget and Capital Program web page for links to agency budgets as well as RTA’s proposal regional transit budget that includes new 15 evaluation criteria for capital projects.

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Tagged in: Metra | Budget

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