CHICAGO (WBBM) — Although it’s not a done deal yet, huge fare increases appear almost certain for Metra riders beginning Feb. 1.

The Metra board Friday ruled out service cuts to close a 2012 budget shortfall estimated at more than $64 million. To date, budget-cutting has saved about $4.4 million.  

That leaves fares as the only option, and Metra staff proposed increases averaging 29.8 percent for monthly pass-holders; an average 32.2 percent for a 10-ride ticket and an average 17.3 percent for one-ride tickets.     

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports

One-way fares were raised in 2010 when others were not.

Also tucked into the staff proposals submitted to the board are ones that would make one-way tickets non-refundable and good for only 14 days instead of the current one year, and another that would cut the shelf life of 10-ride tickets to six months. Currently, they also are one year.

Clifford conceded that the changes in the ways in which tickets are accepted and refunded probably would not generate any appreciable revenue for Metra. 

Many Metra riders keep a spare one-way ticket in their pocket, or buy 10-ride passes if they are occasional Metra users. 

Clifford said the 10-ride ticket “may not be the right product” for occasional riders. 

Yet another change would peg the price of 10-ride passes at nine times the one-way fare, instead of eight times.

Board members sounded comfortable with most of the proposals, but several strongly objected to a proposal to drop the $7 weekend pass and replace it with a pass, still costing $7, that would be good for only one weekend day. 

Clifford said keeping the weekend pass would cost Metra an estimated $2 million in revenue and would probably tack “a couple percent” onto any fare increase.

The price of the monthly pass for the average commuter riding between downtown terminals and communities such as Lisle, Homewood, Deerfield, Itasca, Tinley Park, Palos Park, Highland Park, Arlington Heights or Wheaton would go from $128 to $162.

Monthly pass-holders make 61 percent of the trips on Metra in the average month.   

“We’re still fine-tuning this,” Clifford said.

Clifford will present the Metra board with a preliminary budget Oct. 14. It will then go to public hearings.  Board approval is expected mid-November, with RTA board approval in December.

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