Metra proposed a $700 million budget for 2021 that does not call for any fare increases.
The proposed budget also does not call for service cuts from present levels, but will require expenses to be cut by $70 million unless the agency receives additional COVID-19-related financial assistance, according to a news release.
The spending plan assumes Metra ridership will end 2020 at about 20% of pre-pandemic levels and increase to 50% by the end of 2021. If that happens, Metra expects about $158 million in fare revenue.
With an additional $336 million expected from regional transportation sales taxes and $206 million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, it will have $700 million available to spend in 2021.
Still, at current spending rates and service levels, and with the projected 2021 increase, mostly due to inflation and contractual obligations, Metra will need $770 million in revenue next year. With a fare increase ruled out, it must either secure $70 in revenue from other sources, most likely from another federal relief bill, further cuts to expenses by $70, or identify new revenue and cuts totaling $70 million.
“Without more financial assistance, we face some awful and extremely difficult choices, including cuts in service,” Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski said in the news release. “With our sister agencies in Chicago and across the country in the same predicament, we need to get the message out that public transportation will be severely curtailed without additional financial relief.”
The situation will be similar in 2022 and 2023. Over the 2021-2023 plan period, the gap between what Metra can spend and what it would cost to operate normal service is $570 million. If Metra does not receive more federal assistance, drastic actions impacting service will be required in 2021 and beyond, the agency said.
Metra is proposing one change in fares: an adjustment to its weekend pass in order to entice more families and discretionary travelers to ride the system. Starting Feb. 1, a new Saturday or Sunday day pass will be available for $7 and valid only on either Saturday or Sunday.
The agency will host a virtual public hearing on its preliminary 2021 budget on Nov. 5 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. The hearing will be available to the public within Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties via Webex.