Saturday, December 2, 2006

Metra and Money and the Case for More Money

Buoyed with per customer capital investment levels far higher that those of the other service boards and an operating budget in the best shape of those of the three service boards, Metra prides itself in its clean, efficient and timely service. I mean, any transit service that has the money, time and people to paint its wheels and undercarriages bright silver must be doing something right.

Yet, an experience this morning makes me doubt Metra's credibility as a key partner in the Moving Beyond Congestion project asking for hundreds of millions of more operating dollars each year for the local service boards.

I was on the North Line train coming into the City. Someone tried to pay the conductor and I heard the conductor explain loudly enough for most of the car to hear that the person got to ride for free because Metra didn't equip him with tickets that morning. I talked to the conductor briefly on my way out. The conductor explained that the regular crew didn't show up so he and his crew came in as a backup. Metra didn't equip the backup crew with tickets, so they collected no cash on the trip. He said this happens to him "pretty often," roughly every six weeks or so, and that it is not all that uncommon on the line.

The money loss isn't the point of this story. It is just that as the service boards launch into a full-court press for money, every free ride they provide undercuts their case for more money. Today, a whole trainload of folks who might otherwise be sympathetic to the MBC effort got the message that Metra doesn't need the money.

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