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Metra Warns Of Higher Fares, Service Cuts

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Metra is preparing riders for higher fares and possible service cuts next year.

Officials said Friday that some action appears inescapable.

Fare increases could run anywhere from 8 to 21 percent, depending where the agency attempts to peg fuel prices, which it grossly underestimated this year at $2.35 a gallon.

Metra Deputy Executive Director George Hardwidge said the amount of the increase depends on the level of service cuts.

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He said it appears that the majority of riders, who use Metra to get to and from work primarily, are far more willing to accept fare increases than service cuts.

Senior Capital Planning Director Lynnette Ciavarella said, with the exception of Boston, which last increased its fares in 2007, Metra is well below the industry average for fare increases since 2004.

Hardwidge recommended an initial phase of service cuts that target 31 trains, effectively removing one crew from each Metra line except the Heritage Corridor.

In addition, special trains serving White Sox and Bears games would be eliminated, as well as several weekend express trains added to Metra schedules in 2008 and 2009.

"By taking those trains out of the system you can do some adjustments in your schedule," said Metra CEO Alex Clifford. "You can impact as few (riders) as possible. You will still impact a lot of customers. But the customers could then be absorbed into existing trains."

Cut service more deeply, Clifford said, and the cuts cost more than they save. Such options included completely eliminating midday service or weekend service, or all off-peak service on the Electric District Blue Island and South Chicago branches.

Do nothing, and he said Metra faces a deficit of at least $80 million next year and $100 million in 2013 -- and that assumes that the state pays what it owes in sales taxes and subsidies, something the state has been incapable of doing in recent months.

Despite that, and the fact that the RTA has exhausted its short-term borrowing authority trying to plug the gap in payments, Clifford said Friday he still believes Metra can make it to the end of the year without fare increases or service cuts.

Staff will refine the numbers over the next two months, setting the stage for a Metra board vote on the budget in October.

Specific trains that would be cut include:

Train 1274, departing Aurora at 4:08 p.m.
Train 1273, departing Chicago at 5:36 p.m.
Train 1298, departing Aurora at 10:20 p.m.
Train 1299, departing Chicago at 11:40 p.m.
Metra Electric
Train 758, departing Harvey at 7:47 a.m.
Train 604, departing Kensington at 7:31 a.m.
Train 503, departing Chicago at 4:54 p.m.
Train 739, departing Chicago at 5:40 p.m.
North Central Service
Train 106, Departing Antioch at 6:44 a.m.
Train 111, departing Chicago at 4:58 p.m.
Milwaukee District North Line

Train 2122, departing Fox Lake at 7:16 a.m.
Train 2137, departing Chicago at 5:15 p.m.
Train 2152, departing Fox Lake at 6:20 p.m.
Train 2151, departing Chicago at 7:35 p.m.
  Milwaukee District West Line
Train 2212, departing Big Timber at 6:54 a.m.
Train 2235, departing Chicago at 5:05 p.m.
Rock Island District
Train 402, departing Joliet at 5:29 a.m.
Train 602, departing Joliet at 6:05 a.m.
Train 302, departing Joliet at 8:10 .m.
Train 303, departing Chicago at 5:30 p.m.
Lengthening midday headways to 90 minutes
SouthWest Service
Train 804, departing Orland Park at 5:49 a.m.
Train 831, departing Chicago at 6:15 p.m.
Union Pacific North Line
Train 358, departing Waukegan at 7:10 p.m.
Train 369, departing Chicago at 11:35 p.m.
Union Pacific Northwest Line
Train 645, departing Chicago at 5:23 p.m.
Train 660, departing Crystal Lake at 8 p.m.
Train 665, departing Chicago 11:30 p.m.
Union Pacific West Line
Train 12, departing Geneva at 5:22 a.m.
Train 17, departing Chicago at 6:57 a.m.
Train 28, departing Elmhurst at 7:32 a.m.
Train 25, departing Chicago at 8:40 a.m.

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