Metra announced a $1.1 billion operating budget for 2024 that includes a revision to its fare structure and a new mix of fare products. It also proposed a $574.9 million capital budget that continues significant investment in railcars, bridges, and stations.
The plans will be the subject of public feedback, including hearings, before the Metra Board of Directors votes in November.
The operating budget is 4.9% higher than the 2023 budget (excluding $65 million in added costs that will be reimbursed by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, or NICTD). The increase is largely driven by expected inflationary (general, medical premiums, fuel, insurance) and contractual (union agreements) increases.
Changes to Metra Fare Structure
The operating budget incorporates a revision to the Metra fare structure that was proposed this summer. Under the new structure, fares will be equal to or lower than pre-pandemic levels. Changes would 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
- Replacing the 10-Ride Ticket with a Day Pass Five-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 here.
The operating budget projects Metra will start the year at 47% of pre-pandemic (2019) ridership and finish the year at about 54 % of pre-pandemic levels. This results in a projection of $243.9 million in system-generated revenues, mostly fares. To cover the rest of the expected operating costs, Metra would use $560.4 million in regional sales taxes and $223.7 million in federal COVID relief funding.
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.
What the Operating Budgets Will Fund
The capital budget of $574.9 million 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
Public hearings about the budget will be held throughout the region on Nov. 1 and 2 between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.