CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s looking more and more like two years of double-digit fare increases are just up the track for Metra riders. 

Several factors are contributing to fare increases likely to be in the 17 to 20 percent range next year and 8 to 10 percent the year after. 

Metra board members told agency officials Friday to pursue a 12-to-18 month diesel fuel contract.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts Reports

Metra CEO Alex Clifford said the latest prices he has been quoted run between $3.23 and $3.40 a gallon. He said that in recent days, Metra has paid approximately $3.11 a gallon for fuel. 

Metra this year is buying on the spot market.  It budgeted $2.32 a gallon for diesel fuel in its 2011 budget, but the price has far exceeded that the entire year, topping out at $3.32. 

In discussion, several board members said they do not want to move any money from Metra’s capital budget to pay everyday operating bills in 2012. This year, $60 million has been diverted and preliminary budget proposals have assumed a $10 million shift. 

And a newly completed survey of more than 2,500 riders found that to the average Metra commuter, maintaining service levels is more important than holding the line on fares.

The latest Metra staff proposal maintains all weekday service, with the exception of one SouthWest Service round trip that would be cut back from Manhattan to Orland Park. 

On Saturdays, two round trips on the Union Pacific North Line, one round trip on the Milwaukee District North Line and all three SouthWest service round trips would be eliminated. On Sundays, one round trip would be eliminated on both the Union Pacific North and Milwaukee District North Lines.  The reductions would save $894,000 a year. 

 A service reduction proposal that included weekdays, floated last month, would save $8.2 million.   

Clifford said all of those factors mean bigger fare increases.

“If you go from the $8 million in service reductions to $1 million, you’re going to have that play out on the fare increase side a little bit more,” he said. 

At increases of 17 percent next year and 10 percent in 2013, the average Zone E rider who now pays $116 dollars a month to ride downtown on a monthly pass would pay $136 a month next year and $149 the year after. 

Metra staff will generate still more scenarios in the coming month, which they will review with Metra board members at their next meeting Sept. 16.

Metra’s board is expected to see a detailed budget document in early October and send it to public hearings; its final vote will be in November. 

Metra has increased fares only a handful of times since its founding in 1983.  All increases until now have been 5 percent, with the exception of the most recent general increase, in 2008, of 10 percent. The commuter rail agency is trying to erase a projected 2012 shortfall of between $80 million and $100 million. 

Under the latest scenario, the only weekday change would terminate SouthWest Service Train 815 at Orland Park/179th Street instead of Manhattan.  Inbound SouthWest Service Train 830 would originate at Orland Park/179th Street instead of Manhattan. 

Trains that would be eliminated under the latest scenario:

Milwaukee District North Line:

Saturday Train 2606, departs Fox Lake at 9:45 a.m.

Saturday Train 2609, departs Chicago at 1:45 p.m.

Sunday Train 2606, departs Fox Lake at 9:45 a.m.

Sunday Train 2619, departs Chicago at 5:35 p.m.

Union Pacific North Line:

Saturday Train 806, departs Waukegan at 8:50 a.m.

Saturday Train 812, departs Waukegan at 5:10 p.m.

Saturday Train 807, departs Chicago 3:35 p.m.

Saturday Train 811, departs Chicago 5:10 p.m. 

Sunday Train 812, departs Waukegan at 5:10 p.m.

Sunday Train 807, departs Chicago at 3:35 p.m.

 SouthWest service:

All Saturday service.

Watch & Listen LIVE