Metra has proposed a $1.06 billion budget that calls for more fare increases, and you can weigh in with your opinion during a public open house set for Nov. 3 at the Kane County Government Center in Geneva.
Metra’s 2017 Preliminary Operating Budget provides $781.2 million for operating costs and $279.5 million for capital improvements in 2017. The budget would increase fare revenue by 5.8 percent and spend the resulting $16.1 million on the agency’s huge capital needs.
The preliminary budget, which covers the day-to-day costs of running the railroad, increases costs by $21.4 million or 2.8 percent over 2016. Key drivers of 2017 operating cost changes include a projected savings of $9 million in diesel fuel prices locked in in 2016, a projected $11.6 million increase in employee health care costs and an average 3 percent increase in employee wages.
Fares cover about half of the operating budget, with the rest primarily coming from the RTA sales tax collected in the six-county region — and partially matched by state. The $21.4 million in operating cost increases will be offset by an additional $21.8 million Metra is expected to receive from the RTA sales tax in 2017.
The 2017 Preliminary Budget includes a 5.8 percent increase in fare revenue from changes that, if approved, will take effect on Feb. 1, 2017. In summary:
- Customers who buy One-Way Tickets will pay 25 cents more per ticket, or 2.4 percent to 7.1 percent more depending on the Metra zone. If these customers take the train 30 times a year, they will pay an additional $7.50 annually to ride Metra.
- Customers who buy 10-Ride Tickets will pay $2.75 more per ticket, or 2.9 percent to 8.9 percent more. That works out to an additional 27.5 cents per trip.
- Customers who buy Monthly Passes will pay $11.75 more per month, or 4 percent to 12.3 percent more. That works out to about 27 cents more per trip and $141 more annually to ride Metra.
- Other proposed fare increases include an additional 25 cents on the reduced fare One-Way Ticket, an additional $1.50 on the reduced fare 10-Ride Ticket and an additional $7.50 on the reduced fare Monthly Pass.
A full schedule of proposed fare increases by Metra zone can be found here.
The fare increase will generate an additional $16.1 million in revenue in 2017, 100 percent of which will be used to fund capital improvement projects. Metra has an extensive backlog of capital projects requiring $11.7 billion or $1.2 billion annually over the next decade just to achieve and maintain a state of good repair. Yet, in each of the next four years, Metra projects that it will have less than $300 million annually available to spend on capital projects — about $900 million less than the agency needs to spend each year.
2017 Capital Budget
Metra’s 2017 Preliminary Capital Budget totals $279.5 million, with funded projects representing the bare minimum investment the agency can make in 2017 to keep the system functioning reliably. The capital budget includes $90.5 million for rolling stock to continue our program to rehabilitate 18 locomotives and 43 railcars annually and a portion of funding to purchase 21 new railcars.
Other major capital investments include: $23 million to continue the multi-year effort to replace aging Union Pacific North Line bridges over 22 streets on the north side of Chicago and rebuild the Ravenswood Station; $20 million to expand the 49th Street rehabilitation facility to increase by 30 percent the number of railcars Metra can rehab each year; and $30.5 million to continue to install PTC.
For 2017, Metra is expecting to receive $175 million from federal sources and $72.4 million from the RTA for its capital needs. It is anticipating no new capital money from the state of Illinois.
“Last year, we said that without a new state bond program, we may need to raise fares even higher than we had projected to fund our capital budget,” said Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno. “By finding budget efficiencies and carefully prioritizing our capital needs, we are proposing a 5.8 percent increase in fare revenue for 2017 – with 100 percent of the proceeds going toward capital improvements.”
As it does each year, Metra began the budget process by finding $5.3 million in cuts to the current operating budget, including: $1.8 million in reduced insurance and claims costs; $1.7 million from the elimination of 27 vacant positions; $700,000 in reduced website hosting and content management costs; $600,000 from lower-priced software maintenance contract for revenue accounting and less expensive data storage; $300,000 from reduced maintenance costs as older locomotives are remanufactured; $100,000 in reduced maintenance costs as old Highliner cars are retired; $100,000 in reduced media consulting services, and $100,000 in reduced rental expenses. These budget cuts bring the total efficiencies achieved by Metra in the past seven years to $24.8 million.
A copy of the proposed budget document is available for review here.
The proposed 2017 Budget will be the subject of a series of eight public hearings throughout the Chicago area on November 2 and 3, with the city of Chicago hearing webcast live on Metra’s website. The schedule for the public hearings is below. Metra customers and members of the public are encouraged to attend and provide comments on the proposed 2017 Budget.
Comments on the proposed budget can also be emailed to 2017budgetcomments@ metrarr.com, faxed to 312-322-7094, shared via facebook.com/MetraRail beginning October 19, 2016 and mailed to the Assistant Secretary to the Metra Board, Room 1300, 547 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL, 60661.
Metra will also include a budget comment form in a special budget issue of the “On The Bi-Level” commuter newsletter. Completed newsletter forms may be mailed to the above address or dropped in one of Metra’s Ticket by Mail receptacles located at Chicago Union Station, LaSalle Street Station, Ogilvie Transportation Center, Van Buren Street Station or Millennium Station. All comments received will be presented to Metra’s Board of Directors prior to voting on the final budget on Nov. 11, 2016.
2017 Preliminary Budget Public Hearing Schedule
From 4 to 7 p.m. Nov. 2:
- South Suburban Cook County: Homewood Village Hall Village Board Room 2020 Chestnut Road
- North Suburban Cook County: Arlington Heights Village Hall Village Board Room, 33 S. Arlington Heights Road
- DuPage County: Clarendon Hills Village Hall Village Board Room, 1 N. Prospect Ave.
- Lake County: Mundelein Village Hall Village Board Room, 300 Plaza Circle
- City of Chicago (Webcast Live): Metra Board Room, 547 W. Jackson Boulevard, Chicago
From 4 to 7 p.m. Nov. 3:
- Kane County: Kane County Government Center, Building A – First Floor Auditorium, 719 S. Batavia Ave., Geneva
- Will County: Will County Office Building, County Board Room – Second Floor, 302 N. Chicago St., Joliet
- McHenry County: Crystal Lake City Hall, City Council Chambers, 100 W. Woodstock St.
SOURCE: Metra news release