The Metra Board today approved the agency’s 2021 operating budget. Although its $700 million operating budget for next year does not call for any fare increases or service cuts from present levels, the agency’s leadership warned that without additional COVID-related financial assistance, Metra will need to cut expenses by $70 million next year.
“Without additional financial assistance, we face extremely difficult choices – and that includes service cuts,” said Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski. “Our sister agencies in Chicago and across the country are in the same predicament. We need to get the message out loud and clear that public transportation as our customers know it could be be severely curtailed without additional financial relief.”
In addition to the agency’s budget, Metra’s Board also approved $386.8 million in capital spending in 2021, including significant investments in railcars, locomotives, bridges and stations.
Metra’s operating spending plan for 2021 assumes that the railroad’s ridership will end 2020 at about 20 percent of the pre-COVID-19 levels and increase to 50 percent by the end of 2021. Under this scenario, Metra expects its services will generate about $158 million in fare revenue. With an additional $336 million expected from regional transportation sales taxes and $206 million from the federal CARES Act, it will have $700 million available to spend in 2021.
However, current spending rates, service levels and projected 2021 cost increases – mostly due to inflation and contractual obligations – mean that Metra will need $770 million in revenue next year to cover its operating costs. With a fare increase ruled out, it must either secure $70 million in revenue from other sources – most likely another federal relief bill – or identify a combination of new revenue and expense cuts totaling $70 million.
The 2021 budget does include one change in Metra’s fare structure. In order to entice more families and discretionary travelers to ride the system, Metra will offer a new Saturday or Sunday Day Pass beginning Feb. 1. The new pass will be available for $7 and valid only on either Saturday or Sunday. The existing $10 two-day Weekend Pass will be available for purchase, but only on the Ventra app. The validity period for both passes will be 14 days, a change from the current 90-day validity period for the Weekend Pass.
As part of the budget process, the Metra Board also approved a $386.8 million capital budget for 2021. More than half of the capital funding will go towards major projects, including:
• $69.9 million for locomotive and car rehabilitation. Metra will continue its innovative and cost-efficient locomotive and car rehab programs and will fund programs to overhaul 21 recently purchased Amtrak locomotives and upgrade locomotives with more reliable AC traction motors.
• $61.5 million for new rolling stock. Metra is close to purchasing new railcars after asking manufacturers to propose new designs that maximize capacity and add customer amenities.
• $12.9 million for bridges. Metra has nearly 500 bridges that are more than a century old and funding will be used to design and construct the replacement of several bridges.
• $47.3 million for stations. Metra is undertaking a major effort to upgrade its stations, with an emphasis on improving ADA accessibility and ensuring that every station has a warming shelter.
• $34.9 million for equipment and vehicles.
With today’s approval by the Metra Board, the 2021 budget and capital program will now be forwarded to the Regional Transportation Authority Board for approval as part of a consolidated budget for the region’s public transit systems, including the CTA and Pace.
For more information about Metra’s 2021 budget, please click here.