South Side group is pushing Metra to expand service, link to CTA

By MARC MELTZER
Contributing writer

With a change of administrations in Springfield, a broad-based South Side group is revving up its years-long efforts to improve service on the Metra Electric line.

Leaders of the Coalition for a Modern Metra Electric, consisting of church and advocacy groups, block clubs and civic organizations, met Friday with Metra officials to discuss the coalition’s demands.

The coalition wants Metra Electric service to:

  • Run trains every 10-15 minutes throughout the day and evening;
  • Permit use of the Ventra card and provide low-cost transfers to the CTA and Pace;
  • Match CTA fares for riders using the Metra Electric stations within the Chicago city limits; and
  • Enhance the safety and security of stations.

Linda Thisted, co-chair of the coalition and president of the Coalition for Equitable Community Development and a Hyde Park resident, said Metra officials were taking the group’s demands seriously at Friday’s meeting and she was hopeful that the group would see progress from Metra on its goals.

In a written statement to the Hyde Park Herald, Metra said its focus at this point is to “work toward achieving a state of good repair for its existing assets. Metra is currently asking the state for $5 billion in new capital funding. . .  including some (for) service enhancements on all lines but nothing on the scale proposed here.”

Regarding the Ventra card, Metra said: “There are ways to integrate the card into our fare payment system, but none of them are simple or inexpensive, which is why it has not happened to date.”

The Metra statement said that if the cost of riding Metra is lowered in the city, “we would still have to be made whole for the remaining cost.”

According to the statement, some of the $5 billion Metra is seeking from the state would be used “to enhance the safety and security of all of our stations.”

An estimated $931 million needs to be raised to implement the coalition’s goals, with half of the amount coming from the state and the rest from the federal government. The coalition has been communicating with state legislators and congressmen to raise the money.

Much of the coalition’s efforts to date can be traced to the city’s failed Olympic bid, when legislation in Springfield was passed to provide universal fare coverage on Metra, CTA and Pace. But Thisted said Metra “skirted around the edges of that” and they didn’t fully accept the Ventra card.

“That’s the only way you’re going to have fare transferability . . . is to be able to get off the Metra Electric and get on a CTA bus without having to pay a full CTA fare,” she said. She noted that Metra is still using paper tickets which she called “1800s technology.”

She added that a lot of people can’t afford the $4.25 Metra fare from Hyde Park to downtown, which is about twice the CTA fare.

Coalition co-chair Andrea D. Reed, executive director of the Greater Roseland Chamber of Commerce, said the status of train service on the South Side is a social justice and quality of life issue, calling the South Side a transportation desert.

Concerning CTA service, she noted that on the North Side there are a “plethora of choices,” while on the South Side there is only the Red Line below 63rd street.

“The blatant inequality that it presents to our community is something that can be changed. Why is it that parts of our city are cut off?” Reed asked.

Thisted said Metra needs to get over the notion that it is a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. service, adding that the service essentially runs only hourly after 6:30 p.m.  Restaurant and retail workers from the South Side all could benefit from more regular Metra service, she said.

She said CTA and Metra are too competitive at the expense of its riders. For example, when the CTA added the No. 6 express bus from Hyde Park to downtown, ridership left Metra for the cheaper and more plentiful CTA service.

When asked which of the coalition’s goals are realistic right now, Thisted said “It’s realistic for Metra to say ‘yes’ to the Ventra card.”

hpherald@hpherald.com