Metra, the local commuter rail service serving the Chicagoland area, is making its second proposed fare hike in as many years. This time around, Metra will increase the price of a 10-ride pass. Instead of costing the equivalent of 9 one-way rides, the pass will simply be a more convenient way to pay for 10 rides.
This second increase in a row reinforces my and many others' observations that Metra has not recovered from the theft and suicide by train of its prior Executive Director, remains poorly run and deaf to the needs of its customers and blind to the era in which it is operating. Annual fare hikes indicate an inability to run an organization. They indicate a lack of planning and foresight and an unwillingness to cut costs rather than placing an increased annual burden on the users of the system. Does Metra have a strategic plan or do they just come up with these things on the fly? Remember their attempts to repair stations along the North line that started, stopped, started and then stopped again.
Today's prime example of its mismanagement is the fact that Metra issues a press release that makes its way into a December 10 Chicago Tribune story by Richard Wronski, announcing eight simultaneous public hearings for the very next day (Tuesday, December 11). Nice notice. Not only that, the announcement asks the public to mail in its comments for the hearing taking place the next day. Granted you did provide an e-mail address as well, but tell me who is going to read mailed-in comments after the one-day hearings are concluded. Apparently no one, since the Tribune article indicates that "according to Metra, any person may present comments orally at the hearings or by submitting written material at any time, but no later than 24 hours after the hearings." Better get those letters in by overnight mail folks.
I have been a regular rider of Metra, on both the Metra North Line and the Rock Island line on a regular basis for 20 years. The only improvement I have observed in that time, as far as I can tell, is the creation of the "quiet cars." That's it. And that "improvement" cost Metra virtually no money other than the signs posted on the trains.
Rather than making improvements, over the past 20 years, Metra conductors spend their time walking through cars, punching and looking at paper tickets and failing to manage the people and issues that arise in the cars. When asked questions, most couldn't be bothered.
Moreover, Metra apparently has failed to notice the digital age and technology improvements during the past two decades.
Does the term "WiFi" mean anything to Metra? Does the Board know that is 2012 and things like bar code readers and mobile computing are commonplace. Do Metra Board members actually ride Metra trains and have any of them tried to get a consistent signal on their mobile devices. I doubt it.
Metra's reputation as a poorly run, money-wasting organization has only been saved over the years by the on-time performance of its trains. That's not so true anymore either. Just ask us riders.
Metra's fare hike request is a joke and so are the public hearings. The public and, more significantly, Metra's riders, know that the Metra Board will pass the fare hikes and that we will take another screwing in the process.
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