Local transit agencies are facing brutal headwinds as they try to provide service to essential workers during COVID-19, at a time when most people who can do so are avoiding riding public transportation. A sign of the times was Metra's announcement yesterday that, as a result of dwindling ridership, it will be gutting service on the Heritage Corridor, SouthWest Service, and North Central Service lines starting Monday, May 4.
On the Heritage Corridor and North Central Service, the schedule will be temporarily reduced to one inbound trip in the morning and one outbound trip in the evening. On the SouthWest Service, there temporarily will be two inbound trips in the morning and two outbound trips in the evening. See the new schedules below or view them at metrarail.com. Obviously these changes are going to cause major inconveniences for some riders, who may need to use other means to get to work, such as driving.
“We hope our customers understand why we are making these schedule reductions,” said Metra CEO Jim Derwinski in a statement. “We are trying to find the balance between providing service for essential workers while stemming the huge losses we are seeing in fare revenue and sales taxes, our two major sources of operating funding. We are being forced to make some tough decisions.”
During its April board meeting, Metra outlined a preliminary estimate that it will lose about $535.5 million in fares and sales tax in 2020 and 2021 due to this crisis. "There are many assumptions built in to that estimate that are almost certain to change," the railroad stated in a news release. "Metra is expecting about $480 million in federal relief aid. The schedule reductions announced today are expected to save about $470,000 a month in labor and fuel costs."
The temporary schedule changes are being made due to strikingly low ridership under the current schedules, which are already reduced from the regular weekday schedules:
On the Heritage Corridor, the three morning inbound and four afternoon/evening outbound trains have been serving a total of about 35 riders per day.
On the North Central Service, the five morning inbound and five afternoon/evening outbound trains have been serving a total of about 65 riders a day. Off-peak trains have been serving only a handful of riders each.
On the SouthWest Service, the five morning inbound and five afternoon/evening outbound trains have been serving a total of about 120 riders a day. Off-peak trains have been serving only a handful of riders each.
Metra promises that all trains will have enough cars for customers to be able to practice social distancing, and the railroad will be prepared to add trains when ridership begins to return to normal. In addition, some riders on the Heritage Corridor and SouthWest Service lines may be able to use the Rock Island or BNSF lines as alternatives, and some riders on the North Central Service may be able to use the Milwaukee District North or UP Northwest lines as alternatives. Pace may also be an alternative for some riders.
So hang in there, Metra commuters. Hopefully these cuts won't be too much of a hassle or a hardship for you, and service will return to full strength after the pandemic is just a bad memory.
In addition to editing Streetsblog Chicago, John writes about transportation and other topics for additional local publications. A Chicagoan since 1989, he enjoys exploring the city on foot, bike, bus, and 'L' train.