Photo by Joe Boyle
Several riders board the commuter train Saturday afternoon to downtown Chicago at the Metra station in Oak Lawn.
Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett said it is time for a discussion to figure out how to alleviate the burden placed on riders who are dealing with decreased service and fare hikes implemented by Metra’s rail service directors.
Metra directors approved a fare hike in November for riders. Adult and reduced-fare one-way tickets have increased from $4.25 to $7.75, depending on the length of the trip. The common ticket price increased from $9 to $12.50, again depending on the distance traveled. The price of $8 weekend passes has increased to $10.
The increase went into effect last Thursday. Service cuts took place on Monday, including the SouthWest line that serves the southwest suburbs. Two midday trains will no longer serve the Laraway Road and Manhattan stations.
“One of the things we would like to do is hold a meeting with representatives from Metra on what can be done,’ Bennett said. “Whether people understand it or not, most of the budget (for Metra) comes from the state of Illinois. They are relying on the state and right now not much is happening.”
A representative from the RTA gave a presentation during the Southwest Conference of Mayors meeting held Jan. 31 at the Lipinski Center in Justice. He informed the large crowd in attendance that the RTA has dropped services due to a lack of funding from the state. No official from Metra attended the mayor’s conference
Bennett, who is the longtime president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors, said that train service has been lacking in the southwest suburbs. Additional train service was introduced on the weekends, but since then Metra has reduced the amount of trains that pass through the southwest suburbs, including Oak Lawn, Worth and Orland Park.
What concerns Bennett and other mayors on the board is that reduced service results in the lack of opportunities, mainly attracting businesses.
“Look, I get it, I know there is no money,” Bennett said at previous mayor’s conference in the fall. “But for too long, we just seemed to be ignored.”
Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury agrees that Metra’s service had been lacking. She said that is unfortunate because Metra could be an asset in the village’s development. She does not buy the argument that there has been a decline in services because of low ridership.
“The way to increase ridership is to provide great service,” said Bury, who also attended the Southwest Conference of Mayors meeting last week. “You want people to take public transportation and we provide good service in Oak Lawn. But the Metra service, which we know can be very good, has been lacking.”
Bury said the downtown section of Oak Lawn, for instance, has plenty of locations to visit. The Oak Lawn Library is not far from the train station, as is the Village Green and several parks. The Oak Lawn Children’s Museum is adjacent to the Metra Station.
“We have a lot of places you can walk to in Oak Lawn,” Bury said. “That’s what makes it so great. In most suburbs, you are landlocked. But Oak Lawn has a lot to offer and it would be that much better with increased services from Metra.”
Metra leaders have stated that the reduction in services is because of a $45 million deficit at the state level, along with increasing expenses. This is the fourth straight year that Metra rail service has raised fares.
Bennett believes something has to be done and a meeting to come up with ideas needs to be arranged.
Bury agrees that Metra officials need to do more to attract riders from the southwest suburbs.
“No Sunday service and very limited service on Saturdays; that is disappointing,” Bury said. “Our congressman (Dan Lipinski) has worked hard to get more service on Saturday. I hope people use Metra, I really do. But we would like to have better service by Metra. Better service will mean more riders.”