Saturday, August 4, 2007

"Wouldn't Metra Get Mad"?

I was discussing possible CTA rail extensions with a family member who is a transit enthusiast. I mentioned that in light of the congestion on the Eisenhower and the many shopping and employment centers in the area from Oakbrook to Naperville it made sense to extend the Congress branch of the Blue Line deep into the heart of DuPage County. (For some reason Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" came to mind, only all the natives are white!)

My young family member's response was: "But wouldn't Metra get mad?" I immediately thought how unfortunate it was that already impressed on this young mind was the notion that the service boards squabble and compete endlessly over "turf" in this purportedly regional public transit system. This started me thinking about the following comment to a recent post:

Mayor Daley better see that Metra get a lot of money from this bill. Hopefully, he'll require that they increase service levels in the City. More stops on the services they have today and more off-peak service. There are parts of Metra, all over the city, but particularly the Metra Electric, that could easily become more integrated into the urban fabric and really improve the quality of some neighborhoods.

Without that pressure, Metra will just keep fares artificially low on the far suburban zones and continue to sprawl, sprawl, sprawl themselves.

Some questions for us to chew on rather than our fingernails as we wait for something to emerge on the public transit front from Springfield:

1. How effective will the post SB 572 RTA be in ending the turf battles between the service boards? In the Congress Line extension example, would the RTA's power to control the alternatives analysis be sufficient to stop Metra from trying to prevent the CTA from expanding into "Metra territory"?

2. Does Metra under serve the City of Chicago? If so, what would be (and should be) the City/CTA response if Metra undertook a major expansion of service in the City and nearby suburbs? What would such a Metra expansion look like and what effect would it have on the CTA?

3. Is it accurate to say that Metra keeps fares "artificially low" in the "far suburban zones"? I thought Metra alone among the service boards had distance-based pricing and that folks in the far outlying areas did not get a price break? Is it also fair to say that the CTA and Pace keep their fares "artificially low" for long trips precisely because they have opted not to use Metra's distance-based pricing approach?

4. Is Metra investing in the wrong places in the region as the poster argues? Instead of possibly marginal projects like the STAR Line or the Johnsburg extension might Metra get a better bang for its buck investing in new lines in more densely populated areas. For example, would Metra do better running in the rail corridor running near Cicero Avenue (the Crosstown Expressway route) than the STAR Line?

5. Does Metra contribute to sprawl in this region by focusing its investment on projects such as the STAR Line, Manhattan extension, Elburn extension and Johnsburg extension?

6. Last, but certainly not least, have the drafters of SB 572 missed a historic opportunity by not consolidating the service boards into the RTA as operating units rather than retaining them as standalone service boards?


Anonymous said...

See Cook-DuPage Corridor

Anonymous said...

I think your poster is correct: Metra is about to receive some money out of this bill that is above even what they have said they needed.

So what are they going to do with that money? Daley, and only Daley, can strike a deal from now until Aug 10th to insure that some of that gets spent on an improved level of Metra service in the City, so, yes, not as much service out to Elburn or Manhattan. Will that "get CTA mad?" Probably, so what? As someone else has posted: the Mayor already is willing to run free trolleys at the expense of CTA, so why not start talking to Metra? Clearly, that's where the money's flowing.

Everybody focuses on CTA, but look at Metra in this deal. They're making out big. But where will they spend that money?

Anonymous said...

Possible reasons for the previous closing of stations on Metra routes in the city:

1. Low station patronage/traffic.
2. High crime and vandalism.
3. Negative impact to non-express schedule with little benefit.
4. Better, more convenient service available nearby from CTA.

These are also likely reasons for reluctance to re-open the old stations or to open new ones.

jackonthebus said...

Aside from who cares if any Service Board gets mad at this point, several good points have been raised.

1. Because of the prerequisites in SB 572 for taking over the study, it wouldn't be effective if both CTA and Metra wanted to study the same route and RTA did not garner the votes to act. The main constraints would be the cost of acquiring a r.o.w. and whether the feds would pay twice. I also noted following the url provided by the first poster that while most of us see this study as encompassing the I-88 corridor, it encompasses the areas served by the BN, UPW, and MilwW Metra lines, and hence raises the issue of competition with existing service and a new start proposal to expand the UPW.

2. The Gray Line Coalition (i.e. Mike Payne) has been arguing for years for service coordination between the CTA and ME. His view was for the CTA to enter into a purchase of service agreement and install CTA fare machines in ME stations. While CATS included his project in its 2030 Shared Path list, it has gone nowhere, because CTA isn't interested in subsidizing Metra. Payne says his motivation is economic development in Chatham around the stations, and since we know who runs Chatham politically and apparently is getting a seat on the Metra Board, maybe Payne can have some influence there. However, while he was a "Partner for Transit," Moving Beyond Congestion ignored him. Also, the only improvements on the ME are because Cong. Jackson yells, and commentator #3 is correct about the condition of the stations that have not been rehabbed.

3. The Auditor General found that Metra fares were too low in the outer zones. This probably wasn't artificial, but caused by having a high initial fare for the first 2 zones, and then about 50 cents per zone thereafter. Also, the Auditor General found that the average fare was a discounted Metra Zone E, or about 25 miles out. Thus, riders past there aren't "pulling their freight."

4. 5. I pass

6. I think the service boards should be consolidated following the NY MTA model, but given the fragmented and undemocratic politics in Illinois (remember, CTA reform is not part of SB572) I can't see that happening. In fact, the so called "governance reforms" were anything but. We just have a few more patronage appointees getting $25,000 a year for not doing much.

Anonymous said...

1. Only if the RTA can successfully overcome Georgetown's fears that extending the Metro will just bring dark-skinned people from Shaw and Anacostia into their neighborhood. Oh wait, I meant Oakbrook, CTA, Maywood and Austin.
2. Yes. More frequent reverse commuting, and numerous infill stations, which would have much higher ridership than costly extensions.
3. Yes, no, yes.
4. Yes.
5. Yes.
6. Yes.