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Metra's 2015 budget includes 10.8 percent fare hike

Metra's board late last week approved a 2015 budget and capital program that includes an average fare increase of 10.8 percent to help fund a modernization plan as well as address increased costs for commuter-rail operations.

The budget includes $753.1 million for operations and $328.9 million for capital needs. A portion of the fare increase will be used to cover debt service on a $100 million bond issue that will be used to help finance a $2.4 billion modernization plan, according to a Metra press release.

Expenses will increase by $51.5 million next year, including $18.5 million for labor and benefits, $6 million in maintenance costs for older equipment, $8.4 million for the financing proposal and $3 million for costs associated with positive train control (PTC) equipment.

Metra officials anticipate the agency will receive an increase in funding from external sources of $18 million, including a $12.3 million increase in regional transportation sales tax receipts, $6 million from the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) and a $700,000 increase in the state reduced fare subsidy, minus $1 million in security grant funding. The deficit is further reduced by $6.2 million from an accounting change, a projected increase in nonfare revenue and grants from the RTA’s Innovation, Coordination and Enhancement program. That leaves a $27.3 million gap between costs and projections for available funding that will be funded through the fare increase, Metra officials said.

The price of full-fare, one-way tickets would increase between 10.8 percent and 18.2 percent, depending on the zone.

The capital budget will allocate $92 million to rolling stock; $36.9 million to track and structures; $131.6 million for signal, electrical and communication work (including $123 million for PTC); $44.5 million for facilities and equipment; $9.4 million to stations and parking; and $14.5 million to support activities.

In addition to raising fares, agency officials emphasized cost containment in preparing the 2015 budget. For example, a renegotiated agreement with the South Shore Line reduced Metra costs by $2.3 million in 2015. The agency has also implemented further efficiencies that will reduce its operating costs for 2015 by $7.8 million, including $3.3 million in savings in maintenance costs, $3.8 million in employee health care cost savings and $700,000 in security cost reductions, Metra officials said.

"We are continuously looking for ways to run this agency as effectively and efficiently as possible," said Metra Chairman Martin Oberman. "But the simple fact is that cost containment can only go so far. Through this budget, Metra is demonstrating that it is spending the dollars necessary to maintain service and taking the steps necessary to invest in its future."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 11/17/2014