Metra Considers a New Policy for Adding Infill Stations, Closing Low-Ridership Stops

Kedzie Station in East Garfield Park currently has low ridership, but use may increase thanks  to a new artist district and food business incubator nearby. Photo: Igor Studenkov
Kedzie Station in East Garfield Park currently has low ridership, but use may increase thanks to a new artist district and food business incubator nearby. Photo: Igor Studenkov

Metra’s Board of Directors is preparing to approve a policy for adding new stations and closing down existing stations that could potentially slash the number of South Side stations.

The preliminary draft of the station evaluation policy was released for public comment following the railroad’s March 2019 board meeting. The board expects to approve the policy during its May 15 meeting, when 2018 ridership numbers will be released. The changes are being described as part of the transit agency’s effort to make “the most effective use” its the limited funding,

Based on the 2016 numbers, if the cuts do take effect, the South Side would bear the brunt of them. The Metra Electric Line’s Blue Island branch could lose all of its Chicago stations, effectively removing all rail service from the West Pullman and Roseland communities. (These neighborhoods are slated to get ‘L’ service, if the CTA can ever find funding for the $2.3 billion south Red Line extension.)

Chicago State University could lose its Metra station, and so could the Pullman neighborhood and several neighborhoods further north. In the suburbs, Manhattan, Franklin Park, Blue Island, New Lenox, Rosemont and Schiller Park could lose stations. And while most of those municipalities have other transit options, Manhattan would lose its only public transit service.

The station evaluation policy would also set up a process for adding new infill stations to existing lines. All of the new Metra stations opened in the last ten years fell into that category. The Rock Island District line’s 35th Street/”Lou” Jones/Bronzeville station opened near Sox Park in 2011. The Heritage Corridor line’s Romeville station opened near the eponymous village in 2018. And the state of Illinois recently released funding for the new Union Pacific-North line Peterson Ridge station in Edgewater neighborhood and the Auburn Park station in the Auburn-Gresham community.

While anyone is free to submit requests for Metra to study the viability of new station locations, Metra wouldn’t conduct a study unless a “project sponsor” pays for it. The study would look at how many riders a new stop might attract, and determine whether opening the new stop would have a net positive effect on ridership without negatively impacting existing customers.

The policy would also speed up the process for closing existing stations. It would divide all stations into three categories: sustainable, underperforming, and unsustainable. Metra will classify its stations under these categories once the 2018 ridership numbers come in. But based on the 2016 ridership stats, the most recent numbers currently available, Metra put 93 stations in the “underperforming” category and 24 in “unsustainable” category.

Screen Shot 2019-04-18 at 10.03.47 AM
117 stations are currently classified as “underperforming” or “unsustainable.”

Underperforming stations are stations that see an average of 59-423 riders a day. For these stations, Metra will analyze why the stop is underperforming and work with surrounding community leaders to brainstorm ways to increase ridership. The 24 unsustainable stations have an average daily ridership of 55 riders or fewer. However, this classification isn’t necessarily a death sentence. Metra will conduct more “deep-dive” analysis, looking at service levels, the state of the station facilities, possible service options, the potential for transit-orientated development, and operations and maintenance costs, and the potential to increase revenue from the station.

Metra will then work with the local stakeholders to determine how to boost ridership, but if it doesn’t go up within a certain period of time, the transit agency will begin the process of shutting down the station. As part of that process, Metra will conduct a Title IV equity analysis and, if the closure is approved, work on “mitigation strategies” to alleviate negative impacts to the nearby community.

According to the 2016 ridership statistics, out of the 24 lowest-ridership stations, eight stations are located in the suburbs and the rest are located within Chicago city limits. The suburban stations include the Rock Island District’s Prairie Street and 123rd Street stations, which are both flag stops within Blue Island, the SouthWest Service Line’s Manhattan and Laraway Road stations, which get less service than most of the line, Frankin Park’s Mannheim and Belmont Avenue stations, which are part of Milwaukee District-West and North Central Service lines, respectively, and the North Central Service Line’s Rosemont and Schiller Park stations. Because of the volume of freight traffic on North Central Line, the line is one of only two that has no weekend passenger service, and the weekday schedule has large gaps in middle of the day and in the evenings.

The Chicago stations include all Metra Electric Blue Island branch stations within the city, most Metra Electric Line main branch stations between 63rd and 115th streets, as well as several largely weekday-rush-hour orientated stations on Chicago’s West Side – the Union Pacific line’s Kedzie station and the Milwaukee District-West line’s Hanson Park station.

Looking at the schedule, there are some stations that are clearly underutilized. 95th Street station serves Chicago State University, while 18th Street station is the closest station to Soldier Field and the 111th Street station serves the historic Pullman neighborhood, which was designated a national monument a few years ago. And once could argue that Kedzie Station, which is located in the middle of a growing East Garfield Park arts district and within walking distance of the recently built Hatchery food business incubator, is poised to experience ridership increases in the future.

Notably, in 2017 Metra significantly changed the Metra Electric line’s schedule, reducing service along the Blue Line branch and increasing service on the main line within the Chicago city limits. Furthermore, last summer Metra launched a fare pilot that, among other things, lowered fares for Blue Island branch’s Chicago stations. Both of those could potentially help ridership at many of the “unsustainable” stations.

The Metra board is expected to approve the final version of the policy in May. The deep-dive analysis would start in June, and community outreach will happen sometime later this summer.

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  • david vartanoff

    This is crazy. Metra service ANYWHERE within CTA’s service area must be brought within CTA fares, single, transfer, multi-ride passes. All of these services are tax subsidized–there is no justification for wasting the Metra assets by strangling ridership.

  • Kevin M

    /begin sarcasm/ Yeah, because closing stations has historically proven to be a winning solution to struggling transit systems. /end sarcasm/

  • Jared Kachelmeyer

    Should people in Beverly pay less than someone in Maywood, which off hand is closer to downtown just because the station is in the city limits? Meanwhile paying twice as much to ride from say Clybourn to Ogilvie seems a bit excessive. The minimum fare should ideally be less than $4.

  • Tooscrapps

    Yes.

  • Anne A

    Being familiar with Metra Electric schedules, I can give you 2 big reasosn why 111th St. is used a lot less than 115th/Kensington.

    1. Rush hour express trains that are MUCH faster than the locals stop at 115th/Kensington, not at 111th. That one is huge.

    2. 115th/Kensington has an elevator. 111th does not. Until recently the relative condition of each station was another factor, because 111th was a mess.

  • Anne A

    I know people who live in areas near Metra stations between Hyde Park and Pullman. Lack of frequency and station conditions are a big deterrent to people using these stations. Some of these stations lack any shelter for bad weather days, and the condition of some stations is quite poor.

    Many nearby residents choose CTA instead, because much greater trip frequency (and the flexibility that comes with it) make their trips easier AND cheaper.

  • JacobEPeters

    None of the MED Blue Island branch stations will be within a half mile walk of any of the proposed Red Line extension stations.

    Instead of eliminating stations in the city, Metra should institute fare reciprocity with the CTA within the city limits. This would make Metra a viable multimodal transit option, instead of a stand alone luxury service.

  • Jeremy

    If the Metra Board (primarily composed of suburban residents) were smart, they would do what you say. Instead, they are looking to get rid of riders who live in the city. This gives the mayor’s office and the tax base no incentive to invest in Metra. As the system degrades, fare prices go up. That will give suburban residents the motivation to move to the city to have an easier commute.

    It is in the best economic interest of suburban governments to encourage increased Metra ridership of city residents, because that makes the system more important in the economic prosperity of the region.

  • JacobEPeters

    This is a good summary of why the current Metra Evaluation Policy is flawed, as well as a proposal for how it could be improved to adequately factor in station level of service.
    https://yard-social.com/category/diverging-approach/
    Although it still doesn’t consider how existing fare bifurcation undermines the appeal of riding Metra within the city limits on a limited income.

  • No Maywood should pay less also. I agree fares should be commiserate withing CTA fares within the “CTA zone” of service.

  • It sounds like the process is thorough and takes hardships into consideration.

    Still I would argue for a (surprise, surprise) ridership/coverage trade-off process where the budget is split (95%/5% or 70%/30% e.g.) and stations within the coverage budget would in essence compete among themselves for most needed statuses (stata?) Then it becomes a more obvious political process than as the de facto process it likely is now, I’m sure.

  • So they spent $200 M to extend the SWS to Manhattan, IL in 2006, and now are considering closing the station?

  • And if you’re going to use transit for non-work trips as well, you might want the monthly CTA pass anyway. Some type of fare integration seems needed.

  • Anne A

    On a smaller scale, they did significant renovations on the 111th St. station (finished last year), and now they’re considering closing that station.

  • Dennis McClendon

    Metra gets nothing (except fares) from city residents. The city sales tax goes entirely to CTA; the suburban sales tax goes to Metra. When Metra stops to pick up a rider at a city station, it’s essentially charity work. To achieve regional transit integration, we’d have to heal the Great Schism of 1982 that split the RTA into suburban and city fiefdoms.

  • Courtney

    I think more frequent trains and more on-time service, along with fare reciprocity, will make it a viable mutimodal transit option for lots of folks.

  • david vartanoff

    I have always used the CTA “service area” or territory” for this issue. This all stems from Mike Payne’s Gray Line proposal from a decade ago, and my experiences when I lived in South Shore and worked in the Loop in the 60s. IINM Metra is supposed to implement ventra “real soon now” so really all that needs to happen is write the software on the readers on Metra platforms to honor CTA passes, etc.
    The other half of the issue is amping up the service pattern on MED.

  • Jeremy

    Looking at Google Maps, I see there is a parking lot near the 111th St station. Is that lot for Metra? That could become a fair amount of affordable housing.

    Part of me wants Metra to increase ridership and service capabilities because it would be an economic boon for the region (and good for the environment), and part of me wants them to keep inflicting self-harm so I can watch the death spiral.

    https://www.google.com/maps/search/111th+street+metra+station/@41.6927336,-87.6706667,198m/data=!3m1!1e3

  • JacobEPeters

    yup, there is no reason that the lines that are 75% or more in the city should not have the same minimum service levels of CTA lines

  • Jeremy

    There would probably be conflict with freight rail, which own the right of way, but I get your point.

  • That’s a different 111th St station. They are talking about the one in Pullman.

  • paulrandall

    METRA is considering closing stations on the Milwaukee District-West line that would directly serve Lincoln Yards. Other closings are on lines that will serve The 78 and other proposed SuperLoop mega projects that will be new job centers.

    Any legal case challenging the TIFs on the basis that the spending is inequitable should directly consider what the money in the TIFs is being allocated for. Could the judge be asked to find a legal remedy that would keep the TIF but reallocate how the infrastructure money is spent so it is spent equitably in a way that conforms to the intent of the enabling state legislation?

    For instance is spending $500m in tax increments justified for a new Clark Street Red Line station serving The 78 when there are already 2 existing stations within a 1/4 mile walk make sense when many of the stations slated for closing could be kept open and improved with those funds? Stations that in the future can be developed as hubs for people commuting to the new job centers.

  • paulrandall

    Why not reallocate TIF funds for The 78 and Lincoln Yards away from unnecessary street improvements like the proposed Dominick Street bridge to maintaining stations in neighborhoods where Chicago residents can live and commute to the new job centers.

  • JacobEPeters

    Not on any of the Metra Electric District Lines, since their right of way is owned by Metra. They are where 15 of the 18 city stations that were deemed lowest ridership are located. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/27b1927b632aa9d49ce60ef0f631f3a22fbe5f29da7131cdae5982641ebd7e05.png
    The 2 stations on the Blue Island Branch are on the portion that has zero freight traffic. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c974840dc668c3fa00c3ceeed8a74c9c34063f024bd23398ec552949fd4f0557.png
    The Kedzie station is bypassed most of the day by existing commuter trains that run along the track, so stopping there more frequently would not create significant new freight rail conflicts.

  • paulrandall

    These ROWs are a priceless asset and resource for Chicago. They need to be leveraged as much as possible.

  • JacobEPeters

    That is not how TIFs work, but I agree with the spirit of the question, we’d have more money for investing in communities that need public infrastructure investment if we didn’t siphon off tax revenue from desirable parts of town to pay for infrastructure that makes them even more desirable.

  • Anne A

    Sorry, I should have been clearer. I was talking about 111th on the Metra Electric (adjacent to Pullman). That is a recently renovated station that on Metra’s list for potential closure due to low ridership.

    The map above is 111th on the Rock Island. The adjacent Metra parking lot tends to be full, or nearly full, on weekdays. This station is much more heavily used than the 111th Metra Electric station.

    Unlike the Metra Electric, trains through Beverly and Morgan Park make all the local stops. The Metra Electric has a lot of express trains that skip stations on that potential closure list.

  • Anne A

    It was interesting looking at the stats for the Beverly and Morgan Park stations on the Rock Island. I think there’s a link between ridership numbers and factors like the health of adjacent business districts and neighborhoods, condition of stations and traffic patterns.

    When I first moved to Beverly (pre 2008 crash), the 95th St. business district was MUCH healthier and had more businesses near the Metra station. There was a good restaurant across the street and 2 morning coffee choices. 99th St. had a different mix of businesses and 1 morning coffee place that feels more like a private club (not so welcoming).

    Now there are lots of vacancies on 95th and NO morning coffee places or adjacent restaurants (less than 1 block away). 99th now has 2 morning coffee places (3 if you include the less friendly one).

    I use both stations and I’ve seen a bunch of people who used to board at 95th shift to 99th over the years, even if they haven’t moved in that time. I’m curious to see if the new coffee place that’s about to open inside 95th St. station moves the needle at all.

    When a station gets run down or destroyed by fire, some people may shift to an adjacent station that is less unpleasant. I’ve observed patterns like that.

  • BRB, going to Manhattan.

  • FlyGuyMike

    Even though the new infill station in Edgewater would be a further walk from my apartment, once complete I will likely switch to Metra, even with all their problems, just because riding the red line every day is a chore.

  • Austin Busch

    Out of curiosity, where do Evanston, Skokie, Oak Park, Forest Park, and Cicero taxes fall? Split the difference, in addition?

  • planetshwoop

    Is it really 4 blocks apart, or further than that?

  • Anne A

    The Beverly and Morgan Park stations are all about 1/2 mile apart.

  • “Kedzie Station in East Garfield Park currently has low ridership, but use may increase thanks to a new artist district and food business incubator nearby”

    I like the optimism in the caption, but this station still has very little service. 12 of 27 weekday trains stop here.

    And it’s expensive to travel from anywhere to this station. From here to downtown (and vice versa) it costs $4.00, and $4.25 from here to Oak Park. The Green Line station is three blocks away and costs $2.50.

    It’s also not accessible, and it doesn’t look nice at all.

  • I’m curious what the “corrective actions” Metra may consider supporting (either instigated by itself, or supportive of other groups’ and agencies’ work) to resurrect a train station’s status.

  • planetshwoop

    If I had time, I’d probably throw a few metrics together to see if you can get better insight than just boardings. Like boardings / # of trains. Or # of express trains.

    As you highlight, some of these come up empty bc the stats are rigged to make some stations look bad, like Kedzie .

  • Dennis McClendon

    The formulas got much more complex in 2008, but 100% of city sales tax goes to CTA. In Cook County outside Chicago, the majority goes to Pace. In the collar counties, half can be skimmed off for other kinds of transportation or public safety, then the biggest chunk goes to Metra and a smaller part to Pace.

  • Anne A

    I share your curiousity.

  • Anne A

    103rd St. station has had the best mix/number of businesses within 1 block of the station over the 12 years I’ve lived in the neighborhood. There are other factors that bring more foot traffic to 103rd as well. I wasn’t surprised that it had the highest numbers among the Beverly/Morgan Park stations.

  • Michael J. Erickson

    Corrective Actions? I’m sorry, but Metra is unsalvageable as we know it…a death spiral
    Metra needs a complete transformation from top to bottom…Green New Deal-type stuff
    Look to England. They converted diesel to electric for $2.2 million per mile and got faster, quieter, more reliable, better accelerating trains that attracted more passengers
    Look to China. They built 15,500 miles of high-speed electric rail in 10 years
    Look to Toronto. They run half-hour frequencies on two biggest lines for just $7.7 million
    Metra can’t fund their $12 billion capital deficit or meet their ten-year capital reinvestment
    Metra payroll’s up 32% in 5 years, while ridership has slid 4.4% in the last 5 years
    Metra relies on a regressive and declining sales tax and state/fed aid for ½ their funding
    Metra is raising fares 68% over a 10-year period, and cutting service on many lines
    Anti-‘Friday Night Lights’…Blind Eyes, No Heart, Can’t Win. Turn lights off on the way out!

  • Allan Marshall

    Funny you mention Manhattan, since I looked over this report, and would NOT have guessed ridership was THAT low to there! Even McHenry has more ridership, which remains among the handful of Metra stations I’ve never been to. And of course per the Metra UP-Northwest schedule, only has something like 2 or 3 trains scheduled in the peak weekday rush hour direction, and one reverse trip out to McHenry in the morning which probably is mostly a service run from Pingree Road, so that McHenry has one last inbound train in the morning. For whatever reason this report mentions South Shore stations, and even Beverly Shores(flag stop only) has more ridership than Manhattan, which surprised me. Laraway Road wasn’t much better, either.

    BTW I have gone to both stations(Laraway and Manhattan), and there isn’t much by Laraway except for a shopping center with as of a few years back, a beer brewery/restaurant(Arrowhead Ales). Manhattan has a small downtown that’s isn’t bad, but quiet. Too bad due to the train schedules that the only way one could spend a little bit of time out there and ride Metra back would be to take the very first outbound Rock Island train to Joliet, bike over to Manhattan, and then wait for the early afternoon train back on Saturday.

    Welp, I guess I should finally do my long overdue idea to take a ME Blue Island branch trip to Stewart Ridge, while I still can. And to see the historic homes by there, including a Frank Lloyd Wright house.

  • Allan Marshall

    I can only imagine Kedzie would have a lot more ridership, if it had scheduled trains beyond say like 6pmish on weekdays. And no weekend service, also sucks as well for that station.

    I can’t begin to think there have been occasional times when I took the 52 bus south towards the Green Line station at Kedzie, and wishing Metra had service scheduled during those times. Instead of having to take a Green Line train west to Harlem or back downtown, just to catch a UP-West train. Sigh….

  • Allan Marshall

    Some years back(around the mid or late 2000s), I began to use the #147 CTA express bus, instead of the Red Line to go downtown in most cases. Such a NICER commute, and you don’t have the risk of running into bums that too often ride the Red Line. I do agree it’ll be nice, once the proposed Peterson/Ridge station opens on the UP-North line though.

  • Allan Marshall

    Funny you mentioned the business district on 95th near the Rock Island Metra station in Beverly, since I never could put my finger on why I’ve seen more vacancies near that station, vs. in the 2000s. Do you have any idea, why this has increasingly happened in recent years?

  • Anne A

    Seems like a mix of reasons. Some of the buildings have gotten a bit run down and it seems like the landlords haven’t wanted to spend any money fixing them up, so those tend to stay vacant or attract low rent tenants.

    One restaurant space very close to the station has been vacant for a few years and just got a tenant. Will see if that lasts. Some friends who were considering starting businesses there looking at it and said that rent was extremely high for the size of the space. The space is very small, which puts real limitations on how it can be used.

    Another building near the station had longtime tenants who have left in the last few years. Ownership of the building changed, and the new owner was such a jerk that they got tired of dealing with him and left.

    I don’t have personal knowledge of the situation with all the buildings, but building condition seems to be a significant factor. For some potential businesses, parking (or the relative lack of it) is a factor.

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