Metra ridership down 97% from COVID-19

Metra ridership down 97% from COVID-19

Very few people have been commuting to work since Illinois’ stay-at-home order began at the end of March, which could mean tax and fare troubles are ahead for Chicago’s mass transit.

The COVID-19 stay-at-home order for two months has left trains and buses empty, creating money problems for the Chicago area’s public transportation system.

Metra announced on May 20 that ridership is currently down 97%, with fewer people taking the service to and from work each day and downtown for activities. Metra is expecting a $535.5 million shortfall in their 2020 and 2021 budgets.

Metra made schedule changes on all lines after ridership plummeted. On the Southwest Service line to Manhattan, the system is running just two inbound and outbound trains each day. The Heritage Corridor line to Joliet as well as the North Central Service line to Antioch each only run one inbound and outbound train each day.

The Chicago Transit Authority and Pace have all seen ridership drop in the past few months as well. The CTA’s ridership has dropped by 80% and Pace has dropped by 67%. The decline in use is expected to make for difficult budget decisions with virtually no revenue coming in.

The Regional Transportation Authority, which oversees CTA, Pace and Metra, anticipates losing $1 billion this year.

Metra’s 2020 operating budget was approved last fall for $827.4 million and is highly dependent on consistent and robust ridership. Last year’s capital bill appropriated $1.45 billion for Metra to spend on infrastructure upgrades during the next five years.

Public transportation systems are requiring users to wear masks and maintain social distancing. Metra is also planning to continue schedule reductions past May 29, the day the Chicago region is set to move onto the next phase of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Restore Illinois and more people may again use public transportation. Metra will run a “shadow train” to take excess passengers if there is a need, according to the Daily Herald.

The mass transit service has consistently raised fees on riders in the past few years and cut service to make up for budget gaps. With revenue dropping to almost nothing in recent weeks and anticipated declines going forward, Metra and Chicago’s other mass transit systems face difficult decisions to cut costs or find new ways to pay the bills.

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