CHICAGO — With Metra ridership down more than 90 percent since the beginning of COVID-19 related lockdowns, financial struggles have hit the commuter rail system particularly hard.
Metra halted collection of cash fares in March, and resumed collection of fares in June on 8 of Metra’s 11 lines throughout the Chicago area. Monday, Union Pacific began a compromised approach to collect fares.
The three lines operated by Union Pacific have not resumed conventional fare collection, mostly relying on the honor system as train conductors do not walk from car to car anymore.
“Union Pacific told us that they didn’t feel it was safe for their conductors to interact with customers and so since June have not resumed what Metra and BNSF have resumed,” Metra spokesperson Michael Gillis said.
Metra estimates approximately $1 million in losses each month since June on the Union Pacific lines.
Today, Union Pacific begins a compromise. Union Pacific employees are checking passenger’s tickets before and after passengers ride one of the three lines. The checks will only be conducted at Ogilvie Transportation Center.
“We have concerns about the feasibility and effectiveness of this proposal so we are watching,” Gillis said.
The compromise comes as Metra and Union Pacific continue negotiations on who will operate Union Pacific’s three lines.
“About a year ago, UP proposed a change in our arrangement in which we would operate the trains with our employees and maintain the trains with our employees,” Gillis said.
Union Pacific released a statement, revealing that two UP employees had died from the virus during the pandemic, while noting the process allows the service to sell more tickets when ridership remains drastically below normal levels.
Metra rolled out an ad campaign last month highlighting safety protocols on their trains.