Metra votes to hike fares on commuters again in 2017 budget

Metra votes to hike fares on commuters again in 2017 budget

The commuter train service’s board approved rate hikes for the third time in as many years, making it costlier to get to and from Chicago.

For the third consecutive year, commuting into Chicago from the suburbs is going to get pricier.

Metra’s board approved a rate hike Nov. 11 as part of its 2017 budget, increasing fares an average of 5.8 percent for commuters, with adult one-way tickets jumping 25 cents, 10-ride passes increasing $2.75 and monthly passes increasing $11.75.

This follows a 2 percent increase in 2016 and an 11 percent increase in 2015. The fee hike is part of a 10-year, $2.4 billion modernization plan passed in 2014.

Despite taking more than 81 million passengers on trips in 2015, Metra spent nearly twice as much as it took in that year, with nearly $350 million in losses before deprecation. Metra said it has $11.7 billion in capital needs – something the new fare hike will hardly make a dent in.

Metra burdening riders for its financial mismanagement – which has also included scandal – isn’t the only way Chicago-area officials have targeted commuters.

In 2015, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel considered a “congestion tax” under the guise of cutting down on pollution connected to congested roadways. The tax would have charged drivers for using city streets between 6-10 a.m. and 3-6 p.m. While it never materialized, it showed Chicago politicians’ willingness to go after commuters’ wallets as a way to compensate for decades of financial recklessness.

And once commuters arrive in the city – whether by way of Metra or car – they’ll be hit by local taxes and fees that make Chicago the most overtaxed city in Illinois.

Public officials – on the Metra board, in city, county or state government – should not be placing more burdens on taxpayers to make up for budgetary mistakes. With the state’s population dropping by more than 22,000 in 2015 – and with 10,000 people leaving Cook County ­– taxpayers have the option to vote with their feet if the price of bad government gets too high. And if they chose to do so, they may not even lose access to Chicago’s benefits. The potential expansion of the South Shore train line into Northwest Indiana could cut the commute from Chicago to Hammond, Ind., to just 25 minutes, or to South Bend, Ind. – which would normally take nearly three hours by train – to just 90 minutes.

With an already friendlier tax and regulatory climate, a more efficient commuter service with access to Chicago could make Northwest Indiana an explicitly better option for Illinoisans being constantly nickel-and-dimed.

Cutting costs and reforming bad practices would work better for both commuters and Metra’s balance sheets. The same is true for politicians in all levels of government, in particular the overtaxed city of Chicago. Public officials trying to manage poorly run finances at any level won’t have anyone to raise taxes or fees on if all the taxpayers leave for greener pastures.

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