CHICAGO (CBS) — On Monday morning, commuters who still have to get into Chicago for work will need to adjust to different schedules on Metra.
The rail organization cut its service in half because of fewer passengers. It also promised refunds for monthly ticketholders who now work from home.
CBS 2 Investigator Dorothy Tucker dove deep into how all of that might affect an already-cash-strapped Metra’s bottom line.
On a recent weekday, a normally crowded platform in Downers Grove was filled with very few commuters – and most were practicing social distancing.
When the train came on board, car after car after car was nearly empty – on a rush-hour train. It is usually the opposite, of course.
Jackie Brown rides Metra every day, as she has a phone company job where she cannot work from home.
“It’s eerie,” Brown said.
Train service is a lifeline for people like Brown. But one conductor told us every day this past week, he has counted fewer and fewer passengers in the seats.
He said on a train that 750 people normally ride, just 34 did on Thursday – a drop of 95%.
Metra makes about $30 million a month in passenger revenue. Half of those riders buy the more expensive monthly tickets. Metra has offered those commuters who are now teleworking partial or full refunds.
Metra told us thousands have requested refunds, but couldn’t give us an exact number.
So, let’s do the Metra math ourselves: $30 million dollars a month in passenger revenue, 95% fewer people riding trains every day. That’s a potential loss of $28 million dollars for every month COVID-19 keeps riders off the train.
Any dollar lost in fares is sure to have an impact on Metra’s bottom line, because half of the budget comes from commuters.
A Metra spokesperson told us it’s too early to compute losses or determine how to cover them, including the possibility of fare hikes or permanent service reductions.