Updated 11/2/11 – 7:33 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Riders told Metra’s chief executive officer at a public hearing in Homewood on Wednesday that the fare increases the agency has proposed are too much.

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“We’re struggling to pay our regular bills and, where I live, costs are going to go up this year and for 2012, too. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to get to work,” said an exasperated Sue Rubins, who engaged CEO Alex Clifford in a 15-minute discussion of Metra’s

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Several riders said they have endured pay cuts, consider themselves fortunate to be working at all, and already are making choices between paying the mortgage or other essential bills and paying for Metra tickets. And they say the 30 percent proposed increase in the average price of a monthly pass won’t help.

It was not lost on Clifford, who tried to explain the budgeting process Metra employed in coming to the decisions leading to the biggest fare increase in the agency’s 28-year history but said that in the end, the commuter rail agency must pay its bills as well.

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Still other riders said that the increase may prompt them and others to telecommute, making the need for any Metra ticket unnecessary.

Not everyone spoke against a fare hike.

“I am supportive of Metra’s fare increase,” said rider Paul Burgess, of Homewood. “I believe that it is a rational response to the budget pressures that the agency faces.”

But even Burgess said that he believes the Electric District, which he rides daily, has been “shortchanged” in terms of improvements.
Metra is proposing increases averaging 30 percent for those who use 10-ride tickets, 29.4 percent for those who use monthly passes and 15.7 percent for those who use one-way tickets.

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One more night of hearings is scheduled in Grayslake, Joliet, Clarendon Hills and at Metra headquarters.