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Bus riders account for more than 20 percent of people using Lake Shore Drive every day while taking up a fraction of the space that cars do.

Metra speech "fares" poorly

Metra CEO Alex Clifford did his cash-strapped agency no favors Wednesday at his City Club presentation by asserting that Metra's largest fare increase ever (25 percent) didn't contribute to a 1.7 percent ridership decline in 2012.

/Clifford rightfully made the case for more capital dollars to close a huge funding deficit for maintenance and repairs, but then gave politicians a convenient out by saying Metra riders, and would-be riders, aren't dissuaded by fare increases. If that's true, then elected leaders who control the purse strings might simply tell Metra to keep raising fares to close its funding gaps. If riders don't care about fare increases, why should politicians?

But riders do care, and you can be sure that a modest percentage of riders dumped Metra while fewer new riders took to the rails because of higher fares.

Clifford's claims are also inconsistent with Metra's new promotion to attract riders with, you guessed it, free rides! If fare prices don't matter, why give away rides?

It's true that Metra is still a great value for its typical commuters, but only 12 percent of suburbanites can get to a typical job in less than 90 minutes on transit. And even those fortunate few won't find Metra a good value if fares keep going up and up.

With suburban transit cash strapped and not especially convenient for nearly 90 percent of its potential customers' commutes, Metra should be lamenting the need for large fare increases, not excusing it.