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Public engagement needed around Metra’s off peak service cuts

Metra recently announced a series of cuts to off-peak service on the Heritage Corridor, SouthWest Service, and North Central Service, as well as cuts to Saturday service system-wide.

In response to these cuts and to share thoughts about other pandemic-related Metra policies, Active Trans partnered with Star:Line Chicago in submitting comments to the Metra Board of Directors meeting held this week.

While Metra is experiencing a 97 percent ridership loss due to COVID-19, there are still many riders relying on Metra to take essential trips and reach their jobs. We encourage Metra to conduct outreach before making further cuts in service. Metra needs to engage riders to ensure their needs are being met, especially those who rely on off-peak service.

As we move through the post-pandemic recovery process, we encourage Metra to engage in a line-by-line planning process that engages riders and considers racial equity as a key metric.

Here are the full comments we shared with the Metra Board:

We would like to thank the Board and Metra staff for their hard work and diligence to keep Metra operational during these difficult times while making sure the railroad remains a safe mode of transportation for all as we combat this pandemic.

We understand these are very challenging times for Metra and for transit operators throughout the country, and we appreciate the very difficult decisions that will need to be made by the Board in both the short- and long-term. However, we are concerned with recent drastic cuts to weekday off-peak service, notably on the Heritage Corridor, SouthWest Service, and North Central Service, as well as cuts to Saturday service system-wide.

Many of the essential employees who we all are relying on to fight and overcome COVID-19 do not work traditional weekday 9-to-5 shifts, and peak-only train service does not give these important commuters the safe, reliable transportation alternatives that they need during these tough times.

Metra remains an important asset to all of Chicagoland, and we commend the Board and Metra staff for their ongoing commitment to maintain service on all 11 lines. But as we look forward, maintaining and expanding off-peak service will be vitally important to ensure an equitable recovery for all. Furthermore, strong off-peak service will be important to encourage former riders to return and to attract new, non-traditional commuters and other travelers to use Metra while reducing our region’s overreliance on personal automobiles as traffic and congestion on our roads quickly return to pre-pandemic levels.

We ask that you engage riders and residents in decisions around service changes like the ones recently announced. As we noted in our letter to the RTA board in April, there is a need for public engagement and communication around decision-making, especially during this crisis. It is important for riders and residents to understand why and how these decisions are being made as well as providing opportunities for input and feedback before they are made and after the fact. Public engagement is critical short term to make sure needs of essential workers are being met and longer term to bringing additional riders back.

In addition to seeking actionable input from the public for service changes, as our region recovers from COVID-19 we encourage Metra to build a line-by-line service restoration plan that addresses previous regional inequities in service with a particular focus on racial and economic inequities. Rather than simply going back to Metra’s pre-pandemic schedules, the coronavirus recovery provides Metra with a unique opportunity to provide modernized schedules that better balance limited operational funds with more comprehensive benefits for all, not just white-collar 9-to-5 workers.

We appreciate the opportunity to present these concerns to the Board, and we hope they are considered as important decisions are made moving forward.

Signed:

Star:Line Chicago
Active Transportation Alliance

Learn about some of our other advocacy work focused on keeping transit working effectively for the people who need it most during the COVID-19 crisis.

We also urge you to support Active Trans so that we can continue advocating for sustainable transportation throughout the region. Please consider giving what you can on Active Trans Giving Day, May 22. 

Photo credit: Nam Y. Huh of AP