In the coming weeks, Metra customers are going to notice some stepped-up efforts by Metra staff to validate fare collection, including new signs and the use of Metra Police to check customers for appropriate tickets and potentially cite those without them. We’d like to explain what we are doing and why.
State law requires the RTA region to fund half of its operations through system-generated revenue, mostly fares, and Metra therefore has a responsibility to collect every fare. Our current fare collection system, which relies on conductors walking through train cars collecting fares from or selling tickets to every customer, can result in missed collections. That system was inherited from the private railroads that operated commuter service before Metra was created in 1984, and it has not been changed because there is no simple, inexpensive alternative. But we have been researching fare collection with other transit agencies and we have identified steps we can take to improve our collection efforts, in addition to making sure our conductors are doing everything they can.
Under our current system, customers are not required to have a ticket before boarding, since not every station has an agent or ticket vending machines and our conductors sell tickets on board the trains. (We are planning to add vending machines to stations in the near future.) However, if customers don’t have a ticket before boarding, they must be able to buy a ticket on the train with cash or through the Ventra app. The vast majority of our customers understand and comply with that requirement. They present a ticket or are able to buy one. A small number of others, however, avoid paying.
A common complaint from customers who do pay is that Metra should do more to make sure everyone pays. We agree and that’s why we are trying some new things. Conductors are still going to do their jobs collecting fares and selling tickets. If a customer does not produce a paper or mobile ticket or refuses to pay on board with cash or via the Ventra app, Metra may remove that customer from the train and police may issue citations for state or county offenses.
Metra Police will complement the efforts of conductors, checking customers to make sure they rode with an appropriate ticket and potentially citing those who did not.
Signs reinforcing the requirement to ride with an appropriate ticket – and warning about the potential penalties for failing to do so – will be posted at stations and on trains. Metra is hoping the signs and increased fare validation efforts will result in greater compliance.
Metra may also ask customers to verify they have an appropriate ticket before boarding their trains at stations. We have used this method during high-volume days and it is a good way to make sure everyone who rides has paid their fare.
Why doesn’t Metra accept credit cards for onboard payment? We cannot do it efficiently and in a cost-effective manner at present, but our research with other agencies includes looking at this issue to see how they address it.
This initiative may be laying the groundwork for Metra’s eventual adoption of a new fare collection system. We are trying to determine if what other agencies are doing could be adopted at least in some form in our system. Our research also includes looking at ways we might be able to accept a Ventra card as payment. (Currently, we can accept a Ventra account as payment within the Ventra app.) We have to weigh the benefits of any alternatives against the costs. In the meantime, we have decided to do everything we can to make sure we are collecting every fare.
Thank you for your cooperation.