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Four months into the Access Pilot Program, over 3,000 Metra riders experiencing low incomes enrolled for more affordable fares

June 13, 2024

221107 RTA 1572

On February 1, RTA launched the Access Pilot Program in partnership with Cook County and Metra, extending reduced fares to eligible Metra riders experiencing low incomes. All Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipient household members living within the six-county region qualify for reduced fare rides on Metra under this 18-month pilot program, which is slated to last through July 31, 2025. Applications are available in person, by phone (312-913-3110) and online at GetAccess.org.

Meet the riders

Four months into Access, 3,125 riders have successfully enrolled and have taken 33,000 rides. About 77 percent of applications received have come from Cook County, 6 percent from DuPage, 6 percent from Will, 5 percent from Lake, 4 percent from Kane, and 2 percent from McHenry. To be approved, applicants must submit a current SNAP eligibility determination letter, a photo ID with a name and address that matches the SNAP letter, and a clear 2-by-2-inch photo.

One Metra rider enrolled in the Access Pilot Program, Tiana Love of Chicago, said she and her family ride Metra much more often now that she’s able to purchase tickets at a reduced fare.

“My husband doesn’t drive, and his mother lives in Schaumburg, so instead of driving, we get on Metra now,” Love said. “I have kids, so the train ride is a lot more interesting,” she added with a laugh. “They like the train.”

Love said the application process was quick and easy, and having access to Metra makes certain trips much more convenient.

“Without Access, I would have to drive …,” she said. “I get tired of driving sometimes. When you’re the driver, you can’t look at the scenery and enjoy the view—and I hate traffic. [Riding Metra at a reduced fare] we save a lot of money, so now we have enough money left over for the next week.”

Expanding Access

The RTA and Service Boards along with many community stakeholders are eager to see the Access pilot expand to the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and Pace and are seeking the funding needed for that expansion.

Making fares more seamless and affordable is a commitment RTA made in its regional transit strategic plan, Transit is the Answer. Central to expanding free and reduced fare programs is first understanding the program administrative cost and lost operating revenue borne by the transit agencies. This pilot is structured to begin answering these questions, while providing a reduced fare Metra ride to residents of the Chicago region experiencing low incomes that is a direct benefit to the qualified riders, minimizes the burden to participate and administer from a rider and agency perspective, and can be quickly implemented.

Today, the State of Illinois only covers a fraction of the cost of current reduced fare programs. Fully funding existing free and reduced fares will also address a significant portion of the regional transit system’s $730 million budget gap, and expanding these programs will ensure the system will remain accessible and affordable to the people who need it most.

Join the Transit is the Answer Coalition

The RTA is working with policy makers at all levels of government to continue to raise awareness of critical reduced fare programs, the extent to which they’re underfunded, and how increasing contributions from the State helps address the long-term fiscal cliff. Join the Transit is the Answer Coalition to help bring about the legislative changes needed to support transit at this pivotal moment.

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Tagged in: Transit is the Answer | Reduced Fare

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