Chicago’s Metra will not raise fares in 2020, the second year in a row that it has not asked customers to pay more. The agency also announced that it will budget $2.6 billion for capital improvements over the next five years, with a priority on railcars, locomotives, stations, bridges, and service improvements.
As it does every year, Metra searched for ways to control or reduce its operating costs to head off the need for a fare increase. This year it identified about $5 million in efficiencies. In addition, it expects to save about $7 million by not filling vacancies and about $9 million by reducing overtime and other miscellaneous expenses.
The $21 million in reductions will help offset an expected $26 million increase in operating expenses next year, including about $7 million in new operating expenses associated with Positive Train Control (PTC) and about $19 million in labor and various other operating expenses.
Preliminarily, Metra expects its overall operating budget to increase by $5 million next year, from $822 million in 2019 to $827 million in 2020. Higher revenues from the regional transportation sales tax, which funds a little more than half of Metra’s operating budget, will cover that $5 million and no fare increase will be needed.
Metra also unveiled a preliminary capital program that includes nearly $2.6 billion in funding over the next five years, a significant increase from recent years thanks to the new state capital program. Metra expects to receive about $215.5 million in each of the next five years from the sale of state bonds, and an additional $73.8 million a year from “Pay Go” funding tied to a higher state fuel tax, for a total of $1.45 billion in new state money. That money will be added to $962 million in expected federal funding, $145.8 million in expected RTA funding and $26 million in Metra fare revenue devoted to capital needs.