The following are some questions and answers about Metra's 2024 fare structure modifications, which will take effect Feb. 1, 2024. For the main website about the plan, click here.
Nov. 14: Updated Q&A based on Board action
Why change the fare structure?
The plan aims to create a fare structure that customers can easily understand, that will encourage ridership, that will simplify onboard fare collection, and that meets Metra’s financial and technical constraints.
What are the changes?
- Zones: The current 10 fare zones will be discontinued and replaced with four zones (see map below) for One-Way Tickets, weekday Day Passes and Monthly Passes and one zone for all weekend passes. Downtown stations will be assigned to Zone 1 and outlying stations will be assigned to Zones 2 through 4 based on a combination of distance from downtown, service patterns and ridership characteristics on each line, which vary.
- The 10-Ride Ticket: The 10-Ride Ticket will be replaced with a new fare product, a Day Pass 5-Pack. The 5-Pack will be available only on the Ventra app and priced the same as the 10-Ride Ticket, at 9.5 times the cost of a One-Way Ticket. The passes in the 5-Pack do not have to be used on consecutive days; rather, they could be used on any five days in a 90-day period (10-Ride Tickets are valid for 90 days.) The 5-Pack could be shared by up to five people traveling together.
- Incremental Fares: “Incremental fares” – a surcharge paid to the conductor to travel beyond the zones indicated on their ticket – will be discontinued. Riders will be required to buy a ticket valid for the trip they are taking.
What are the proposed prices for each fare product?
- One-Way Tickets to the downtown zone, Zone 1, will cost $3.75 from Zone 2, $5.50 from Zone 3 and $6.75 from Zone 4. To encourage non-downtown trips, all One-Way Tickets for trips that do not include downtown as a starting point or destination will cost $3.75, no matter the distance.
- The weekday Day Pass will be priced at twice the cost of a One-Way Ticket and will be valid for unlimited rides for a single day within the zones selected. The current $6 and $10 weekday Day Passes, introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic as a promotional fare, will be discontinued.
- A Day Pass 5-Pack will be priced at 9.5 times the cost of a One-Way Ticket and will only be available via the Ventra app. The passes could be used on non-consecutive days. The 10-Ride Ticket will be discontinued. The 5-Pack could be shared by up to five people traveling together.
- A Monthly Pass will be priced at 20 times the cost of a One-Way Ticket: $75 for Zone 2, $110 for Zone 3 and $135 for Zone 4. This pricing is below the cost of pre-COVID Monthly Passes. The current $100 flat-rate “Super Saver” Monthly Pass, introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic as a promotional fare, will be discontinued.
- Reduced fares of roughly 50 percent will still be available for senior citizens 65 or older, customers with disabilities and Medicare cardholders who have an RTA-issued Reduced Fare Permit. Those enrolled in the Illinois Circuit Breaker program with an RTA-issued Ride Free Circuit Permit will still be eligible to ride free. Reduced Fares also will still be available for K-12 students and active duty military personnel.
The proposal does not include changes to the following fare products and prices:
- The $30 Regional Connect Pass still will be available to Monthly Pass buyers for unlimited rides on CTA and Pace.
- The $7 Saturday, Sunday, or Holiday Day Pass will still be available, and the $10 Weekend Pass still will be available on the Ventra app only.
How does the proposal consolidate the zones?
Under the proposal, downtown stations will be assigned to Zone 1 and outlying stations will be assigned to Zones 2 through 4 based on a combination of distance from downtown, service patterns and ridership characteristics on each line, which vary. Generally, stations within or close to Chicago will be in Zone 2, stations in an intermediate service zone will be in Zone 3, and remaining stations will be in Zone 4.
How did you decide where to propose to put the borders between zones?
The zone borders are not strictly based on mileage. Rather, we used a combination of service patterns, distance from downtown, and ridership characteristics on each line, which vary.
Specifically, why did you propose to put the border before Palatine/Downers Grove Main St./Tinley Park 80th?
- between Arlington Park and Palatine on the UP Northwest Line?
- between Fairview and Downers Grove Main St. on the BNSF Line?
- between Tinley Park Oak Park Ave. and Tinley Park 80th Ave. on the Rock Island Line?
Many lines have service patterns for local and express trains, and we used those patterns to guide some of the proposed new zone breaks. For instance, if you look at the BNSF Line schedule, there is a set of trains in the morning rush serving Aurora to Downers Grove Main Street and expressing in, so those stations were assigned to Zone 4, and a second set serving Fairview to Congress Park and expressing in, so those stations were assigned to Zone 3. With Union Station assigned to the downtown Zone 1, that left the remaining stations on the line to be assigned to Zone 2. Similarly, on the UP Northwest Line, there is a set of trains serving Harvard to Palatine, so that became Zone 4, and an intermediate set serving Arlington Park to Des Plaines, so that became Zone 3. On the Rock Island Line, 80th Ave. has express service and Oak Park Ave. does not. We used similar reasoning on other lines. This approach matches cost to service and helps with fare collection during busy periods, because conductors will generally only have to look for the one zone pair on all tickets on each train. On lines without such service patterns, such as the North Central Service, geography was a factor as we tried to match stations on the line to nearby stations on other lines. And some of our considerations were guided by our need to avoid disparately impacting minority and low-income communities.
Why would downtown stations be in their own zone?
This allows us to encourage non-downtown trips by charging one flat rate – we are proposing $3.75 for a One-Way Ticket – for all trips that do not originate from or arrive at a downtown station.
How did you determine the fares for each zone?
There were a variety of factors considered:
- First, we wanted to make sure we hit our budget target. For next year, that target was our calculation of what our current system would generate next year if we left it in place without changes. In other words, we want to collect with the new system about the same amount we’d collect with the current system.
- Secondly, we wanted to keep fares at our below pre-COVID levels from all stations, because we are still trying to nurture ridership growth.
- We wanted to incorporate what we’ve learned about post-COVID ridership patterns. For instance, we proposed to price the Monthly Pass at 20x the one-way fare to make it appealing to someone going to the office two to three days a week.
- We wanted to keep the differences in costs between zones to a minimum while still meeting our budget needs.
- And we had to consider federal Title VI regulations, which pertain to how service and fare changes impact low income and minority populations.
With all those factors in mind, we studied scores of permutations of various costs and arrived at the one that we feel best meets all of our considerations.
What impact would this have on the Fair Transit South Cook pilot?
Riders on those lines will continue to pay the reduced fare rate at least until the end of the pilot. Fair Transit South Cook is scheduled to run until the end of January 2024. Metra and its partners are exploring ways the program can evolve following its completion.
Why does the proposal replace the 10-Ride Ticket with a Day Pass 5-Pack that is only available in the Ventra app?
- We know from our Ventra app data that most people who buy a 10-Ride Ticket use it for just two trips a day.
- The Day Pass will allow the same travel while adding an extra benefit to those who take more than two trips a day, such as anyone transferring between two Metra lines.
- Day Passes align better within our current fare collection system:
- They reduce the possibility of missed fare collection.
- With this change, every fare product will now be time-limited, which is something that can’t be done with paper tickets.
- Day Passes on the app can be validated with visual inspection, which helps meet our goal of simplifying onboard fare collection.
- A bundle of paper passes presents an onboard fare collection complication that a 5-Pack of mobile passes does not: passes in the app can be programmed to expire on the day they are activated, but we will need to punch a paper day pass on the day it is used, and there will have to be some way to indicate the day it is punched (in a way that is easily visible to the conductor) so it remains valid for that day but no longer. (Single day paper passes will be sold with the day of sale indicated on the ticket, but we will not be able to do that with a pack of paper passes because we wouldn’t know the days when riders intend to use each of them.)
We use the 10-Ride Ticket when traveling in a group. Will we still be able to do that with the Day Pass 5-Pack?
Yes, you will be able to activate more than one Day Pass at a time – all five of them, if you want.
Why does the proposal discontinue the $6 and $10 Day Passes and the $100 “Super Saver” Monthly Pass?
The $6 and $10 Day Passes and the $100 “Super Saver” Monthly Pass were introduced as promotional fares to rebuild ridership after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why not just have one flat fare, like the CTA?
If we priced our service at a flat rate that is similar to the CTA’s fare, we will not meet our budget needs. And to meet our budget needs, the flat rate would have been a major fare increase for many riders.
Why does the proposal eliminate “incremental” fares?
We are proposing to eliminate incremental fares – a surcharge paid to the conductor to cover travel beyond the zones indicated on your ticket – because one of our goals is to simplify onboard fare collection. Selling incremental fares slows down fare collection for conductors.
Does this fare structure proposal address the “fiscal cliff” that Metra is facing in 2026?
In a word, no. A little background for those who are unaware of the fiscal cliff: Before COVID happened, we were required by state law to pay for half of our operating budget with fare revenue. The other half was covered by revenue from a regional transportation sales tax and some state subsidies.
After COVID dramatically reduced our ridership and fare revenue, two things happened: First, Springfield temporarily waived the requirement that we cover half our operating costs with fares, and second, Washington provided us (and mass transit across the country) with generous subsidies to keep the lights on and trains running.
That is still the situation today. This year, fares will pay for about 25 percent of our operating costs. The rest will be covered by the transportation sales tax revenue and continued federal aid. We expect a similar situation next year and in 2025. In 2026, however, the federal aid runs out – hence the fiscal cliff.
We expect the fare revenue that the new plan will generate next year and in 2025 will still fall far short of covering half of our costs and we will still need to rely on the federal aid. In the meantime, a state-created body is currently studying the issue and is expected to recommend funding solutions before that aid runs out in 2026.
What are you doing with the higher fares?
We estimate that this proposal will generate only slightly more fare revenue than if we stick with this year's fare structure and prices (and much less than was generated by our pre-COVID fares, which were much higher). That revenue won't allow us to do or buy anything extra – it will help us cover increases in our costs due to inflation and use slightly less federal relief (see above question) next year, hopefully helping to allow that relief to last until alternative funding is secured. A state-created body is currently studying the issue and is expected to recommend funding solutions before that federal aid runs out in 2026.