Last year, Metra launched two new unlimited passes – one that has been in the works for years and one that was supposed to be temporary. But it was the latter that proved to be the most popular with runners, surviving more than 12 months beyond its original expiration data.
The Metra day pass was introduced on June 1, 2020 while the stay-at-home order was lifted and Metra brought back drivers. As the name suggests, the pass offers unlimited rides throughout the Metra system for a single weekday, much like the Metra weekend passes have done for weekends for decades. The round trip Plus pass, initially recommended in the Study of the 2016 tariff structure, was introduced in September 2020 and works more like a Metra monthly pass, offering unlimited rides for a single day in specific fare zones.
The advantage of passes in the era of the pandemic is that drivers only have to take a look at them, which reduces contact. While the All Day Pass can be purchased both through the Ventra app and from a driver / ticket agent, Round Trip Plus is exclusive to Ventra.
Originally, the All-Day Pass was only to last a few weeks. But the pass proved popular, leading Metra to extend it. many time – more recently until September 30. According to the railway, about a third of all passengers currently use it. Meanwhile, the Round Trip Plus pass only made up 0.2% of passengers last September, although usage has grown slowly and steadily since then.
Pass overview and transfers
Unlike CTA and Pace, Metra fares are zone-based. The longer the trips, the more runners had to pay. In this structure, the biggest advantage of the All-Day Pass is its cost – at $ 10, it’s usually cheaper than the cost of a round trip between all fare zones except AB.
The two exceptions to this rule are the Metra Electric and Rock Island District lines. Under the Fair Transit South Cook fare driver, which launched in January, their regular prices are the same as the reduced rates, which means that a round trip to the fare zone furthest from the lines (fare zone H in Joliet) costs $ 8.
Meanwhile, Round-Trip Plus passes cost the same as two one-way tickets between the fare zones shown on the pass. Unless you’re making more than two trips, the pass doesn’t save you money, but it does make the process of buying a round-trip ticket easier. While Metra’s board of directors initially approved the pass at its May 2018 meeting, the railroad delayed the launch of the pass until the Ventra app update in September. 2020.
Both passes allow runners to switch easily from row to row. With one-way and 10-trip tickets, passengers can make transfers, but only within the same fare zone and the same direction of travel. For example, when passengers purchase a one-way ticket between fare zone AJ, they can take a Milwaukee District North Line train from Chicago to Prairie Crossing, switch to the North Central Service line, and use the same ticket to go to the l north end of this line at Antioch. But they couldn’t use this ticket on the North Central Service train going to the loop because it would go the inbound direction. the an exception to the rule of direction are transfers between branches of the same line.
Current pandemic schedules offer far fewer transfer opportunities than before the crisis. For example, given that North Central Service is currently operating on a limited and rush-hour oriented schedule, there just aren’t many transfer opportunities at Prairie Crossing, and the transfer I mentioned above above is currently not possible. But the July 19 schedule changes will add a few options. For example, it would again be possible to transfer between the Heritage Corridor and the RID (at least in the late afternoon) without having to wait more than two hours in Joliet.
Pass ridership models
According to statistics provided by Metra, the use of Round Trip Plus increased significantly between September and October 2020, both in terms of percentage of overall ridership and in actual number, increasing by 0.2% (or 779 passengers ) at 1.9% (8,419 passengers). The numbers fell in November 2020 as Illinois saw an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, to 1.6% (5,563 runners). While the number of passengers using the passes has changed from high to low in winter and increased in spring, in terms of the percentage of overall passengers, the numbers rose steadily in December 2020, from 2.1% at 4.8% of overall ridership.
Meanwhile, the All-Day Pass stats have fluctuated throughout 2020, both in terms of numbers and percentages, remaining in the 20-25% range. In terms of raw numbers, the pass peaked in October 2020, with 104,061 passengers, and recorded the highest percentage of passengers in December 2020, with 25.4% of overall ridership. In 2021, the percentage stabilized further at an average of 14%, gradually decreasing over the past three months, although the actual number of runners using them has increased.
It should be noted that, Metra’s overall monthly ridership increased in June and July 2020, stayed in a similar range in August – November 2020, and saw a notable decline in November 2020 where it practically plateaued until it started rising again in March 2021. At least some of the changes in ridership appear to reflect ridership in fall 2020 decreasing and ridership in spring 2021 increasing. But that does not explain the noticeable decrease in all-day pass use and the increase in round-trip Plus pass use in January 2021.
As I mentioned earlier, the Fair Transit pilot project kicked off that month and Round-Trip Plus passes became cheaper than all-day passes on the MED and RID lines. While the change had an effect on system-wide pass usage, it was temporary, as the raw numbers for both passes increased in the spring.
A recent change that could affect these numbers is the resumption of fare collection on the three Union Pacific Metra lines. While the pandemic has blurred usual ridership patterns, the Union Pacific Northwest and Union Pacific North lines have always been among the five busiest lines since June 1, 2020. Until the resumption of fare collection, users could, in practice, make the transfer between the two lines at Clybourn station without paying for their journey, because no one checked the tickets.
It remains to be seen how far fare collection will affect overall pass usage and how it would be affected by the overall increase in ridership of the system, but Metra still has at least three months to find out.
In its announcement of the latest extension of the All-Day Pass, the railroad touted it as a “popular and affordable fare option for travelers during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Metra executive director Jim Derwinski described it as a flexible option for commuters returning to office work in person.
“We understand that over the summer months many workers will gradually come back from remote work,” said Derwinski. “The $ 10 All Day Pass gives our current and new customers to our system the flexibility they need right now, while delivering significant savings. “