Chicago’s Metra introduced a proposed $700 million operating budget, and proposed $386.4 million in capital spending, including major investments in railcars, locomotives, bridges, and stations.
While the budget does not call for any fare increases or service cuts, it will require expenses to be cut by $70 million unless the agency receives additional COVID-related financial assistance.
The proposed operating and spending budget, which includes $336 million expected from regional transportation sales taxes and $206 million from the federal CARES Act, assumes that Metra’s ridership will end 2020 at about 20% of the pre-COVID-19 level and increase to 50% by the end of 2021. If that happens, Metra expects about $158 million in fare revenue.
However, at current spending rates and service levels and with projected 2021 increases — mostly due to inflation and contractual obligations — Metra will need and additional $70 million in revenue next year. With a fare increase ruled out, the agency must either secure the extra revenue from other sources — most likely another federal relief bill — further trim its expenses, or identify new revenue and cuts.
One change Metra is proposing is an adjustment to its Weekend Pass in order to entice more riders. Starting Feb. 1, a new Day Pass will be available for $7 and valid only on either Saturday or Sunday. The existing $10 two-day Weekend Pass would be retained, but only on the Ventra app. The validity period for both passes will be 14 days, a change from the current 90-day validity period for the existing Weekend Pass.
A public hearing for Metra’s Preliminary 2021 Operating and Capital Program and Budget, the 2021-2023 Financial Plan, and the 2021-2025 Capital Program will be conducted virtually on Thursday, Nov. 5 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The breakdown for the proposed $386.4 million in capital spending includes:
- $69.9 million for locomotive and car rehabilitation. Metra will continue its innovative and cost-efficient locomotive and car rehab programs and will fund programs to overhaul 21 recently purchased Amtrak locomotives and upgrade locomotives with more reliable AC traction motors.
- $61.5 million for new rolling stock. Metra is close to purchasing new railcars after asking manufacturers to propose new designs that maximize capacity and add customer amenities.
- $12.9 million for bridges. Metra has nearly 500 bridges that are more than a century old. Funding will be used to design and construct the replacement of several bridges
- $47.3 million for stations. Metra is undertaking a major effort to upgrade its stations, with an emphasis on improving ADA accessibility and ensuring that every station has a warming shelter.
- $34.9 million for equipment and vehicles.