Metra’s proposed budget for next year calls for doing away with the popular $100 Super Saver system-wide monthly pass while lowering the price of the regular, zone-based monthly passes.
The move would save money for commuters closer to downtown Chicago, but it would represent a fare hike for commuters in farther-flung Cook County suburbs and the collar counties.
Metra monthly passes have traditionally been zone-based, with prices increasing the further one gets from downtown Chicago. The Super Saver Pass, which was introduced in June, is good for the entire system.
It is cheaper than monthly passes for most of the system, so the pass effectively displaced the traditional monthly passes. However, it was always described as a pilot – first for three months, then for the rest of the year.
In its 2023 preliminary budget, Metra described the proposed lower regular monthly pass prices as the way to better match the post-pandemic commuting patterns. With federal stimulus funds supporting all public transit slated to run out next year, Metra is looking for a way to increase revenue while still offering riders a better deal than they had pre-Super Saver.
Approval of this aspect of the budget is by no means a sure thing. During the Oct. 12 meeting of the Metra board of directors, several directors argued that shifting to a more zone-based approach was a step backwards, especially given the Super Saver’s popularity. The board will vote to approve the budget at its Nov. 11 meeting, but the budget can be changed until then.
During the pandemic, the commuters shifted away from monthly passes, because it became less cost effective with fewer people coming into the office five days a week.
According to Metra’s September 2022 ridership report, in June only 14 percent of all riders used monthly passes, while 27 percent bought day passes.
Since then, the share of riders who use monthly passes has been going up every month, reaching 33 percent in September, while the percentage that used day passes dropped slightly. The report attributed the uptick in monthly pass usage to the Super Saver pass.
The new monthly pass prices would represent a price decrease for monthly pass users locally.
Riders boarding trains in Oak Park and River Forest, as well as Chicago’s Galewood and North Austin neighborhoods will be able to travel downtown for $68 a month.
While Metra riders historically tended to use monthly passes to commute downtown, they are just as useful for reverse commuters. For example, riders going from East Garfield Park to River Forest will be able to make the trip for $64 a month.
Riders would still be able to pay an extra $30 to buy a Regional Connect Pass, which would turn it into a monthly pass for CTA el trains as well as CTA and Pace buses.
The budget also proposes doing away with a $10 Day Pass, which works system-wide, and a $6 Day Pass that works for up to three fare zones. They were introduced in June 2020 and the start of 2022, respectively.
The $6 day pass is cheaper than the costs of two-way tickets between downtown Chicago and any station in this newspaper’s coverage area. The $10 day pass represents a smaller savings for Brookfield, Riverside, Bellwood, Berkeley, Maywood and Melrose Park riders, because two one-way tickets for those stations cost $11, but it is a better value for riders further away.
Those passes would be replaced with an equivalent of a Round Trip Plus pass, a daily pass that works within the specific fare zones and is worth the equivalent of two one-way tickets. While this won’t save commuters money, it provides greater convenience.
The Round Trip Plus pass was introduced in September 2020, but it was discontinued at the start of 2022 in favor of the $6 Day Pass. The Round Trip Plus pass’ usage increased over time, but it consistently trailed the $10 Day Pass.
The proposed budget described all those changes as a way to encourage more riders to use monthly passes.
While Metra budgets in recent years tended to pass with few changes, the proposal got the pushback from directors representing the collar countries. Director Stephen Palmer, who represents west suburban Cook County, said that speaking to riders illustrated just how popular the Super Saver pass has been.
While he said he was concerned about the budget once the federal stimulus funds run out, he believed that keeping the pass had merit. He and several other directors also said that riders preferred a simple fare structure, and zone-based passes inherently complicated it.
In a press release issued following the Oct. 12 meeting, Metra described the proposal as just “one proposal” on the table.
“Metra may also consider a fare proposal reflective of comments from board members indicating a desire for a more simplified and consolidated fare structure, potentially consisting of retaining the existing $100 Super Saver Monthly Pass, the existing $6 and $10 day passes, or some combination of those and similar products,” it stated.