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Will lower fares reverse declining ridership on the South Side’s Metra Electric District?

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New legislation looks to bring more affordable transit options to the city’s Far South Side

Associated Press

A long-discussed plan to extend the Red Line south isn’t the only plan in the works to bring affordable mass transit options to Chicago’s Far South Side and suburbs. A recent bill introduced by State Representative Marcus Evans, Jr. is looking to give Metra’s Electric District a boost by slashing fares within Chicago city limits to levels competitive with the CTA.

The move would see prices fall from the current levels between $4 and $5.50 down to $2.50, reported the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday. “We would look forward to working with Rep. Evans and others to determine whether doing this is feasible and affordable,” Metra spokesman Michael Gillis told the newspaper. The proposal would also allow riders to board using their Ventra cards.

Evans’s proposed legislation isn’t the first move to lower prices to attract more riders on the south side and burbs. Last year, the railroad tested a pilot program offering reduced fares at some of the Chicago stations along the Metra Electric’s Blue Island and Main Line branches.

Increasing ridership carries extra urgency after Metra released the preliminary findings of a systemwide station optimization study this spring. It identified 117 “underperforming” and “unsustainable” stations—many on the Far South Side—that could face closure if numbers don’t improve. The board is expected to formally adopt the study’s findings at a meeting on May 15.

Amid a steady string of price hikes, Metra saw overall ridership fall by 9 percent between 2014 and 2018, according to the Tribune. Of all of its lines, the Metra Electric District was the hardest hit—dropping more than 18 percent during the same period.

A bill to lower fares might reverse the trend, but perhaps not be enough to offset the reduced ticket revenue. The shift may also steal riders from the CTA at a time when the agency is trying to secure the $2.3 billion needed to extend Red Line south from its newly completed 95th Street to 130th Street, noted the newspaper.