The Metra board recently confirmed Don Orseno as the permanent executive director following his stint as interim chief after Alex Clifford resigned last year. After the confirmation, the Tribune reported that Orseno, a decades-long railroad and Metra employee who lives in Manhattan, a far southwest suburb, said that he has to drive to work because the “SouthWest Service Line schedule doesn’t get him to the office early enough, or home late enough.”
He’s right: Each weekday, three trains depart Manhattan for Chicago Union Station, arriving at 7:25 a.m., 8:17 a.m. and 3:48 p.m. The last train bound for Manhattan leaves Union Station at 5:40 p.m. The line doesn’t run at all on Sundays and six holidays.
Ridership figures for SouthWest Service aren’t known since Metra rarely conducts station-level boarding surveys and the only one for the Manhattan station was conducted in 2006 (the same year SouthWest Service was extended to Manhattan and Will County). A 2013 survey did show only seven percent of the 250 car parking spaces at the station in use. Numerous residents — but apparently not Orseno — drive to 179th Street station in Orland Park which has better, more typical service.
The low frequency on the line isn’t simply Metra catering to demand. Ridership itself is restrained by the lack of frequency.
Orseno’s speech at the board meeting focused on improving communication quality to passengers, which was abysmal during the Chiberia service disruptions. Soon, though, we need to hear from Orseno and other transit leaders and state legislators about how they plan to add service, given that the infrequency of transit is a drag on the regional economy.
Orseno’s comments come at a very interesting time. Tonight, state representatives Ron Sandack and Darlene Senger host a public hearing to discuss Metra’s extremely long delays, leaving passengers on cold platforms with nary a communiqué. Orseno will attend and Metra staff will make a presentation before a public Q&A.
It won’t be surprising if the meeting, to be held at Naperville City Hall, is canceled because of today’s inclement weather, but one Twitter user has this question queued up for Orseno already:
@OnTheMetra they are holding a meeting about the issue with Metra tonight in Naperville. My one question to them will be did u take Metra.
— JT THAT DUDE (@jtotc) February 10, 2014