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Suburban lawmaker wants Metra to accept credit cards, offer Wi-Fi
By Nicole Milstead | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/26/2009 5:03 PM

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SPRINGFIELD - A suburban lawmaker says Metra should enter the 21st Century by accepting credit and debit cards for payment and offering Wi-Fi access for riders.

Grayslake Democratic state Sen. Michael Bond announced Thursday he's putting together legislation to push the commuter rail service to do both.

"The problem is fairly simple: they only accept check or cash," he said. "Metra is the second largest commuter train system in the country and happens to be the only one that doesn't take electronic payment."

Bond says checks are outdated and younger commuters today do not always carry checks or cash because they expect places to take debit or credit. The CTA currently takes credit cards as payment.

Judy Pardonnet, spokeswoman for Metra, said the agency is looking into the change to credit cards and said the procedure will be phased in.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger, representing the Transit Riders' Alliance, said many times people are unaware the trains don't accept credit and debit. "We believe there is some lost revenue from riders who would like to get on the train but because they don't carry a checkbook - and honest to God who does anymore? - and they don't happen to have cash on them, they can't buy," said Weinberger.

The urgency to modernize the system is heightened by the possibility of hosting the Olympics, supporters said.

Bond also is looking for a pilot location to give a corridor of Wi-Fi service, so commuters can use laptops. The cost to add the Wi-Fi would be $5,000 per mile and is in the research stages of finding "creative" ways to pay for it such as marketing and sponsorship, he said. Metra gets 324,300 riders per day on average and the cost of broadband is estimated at $1 per rider per month.

In addition, Bond says a future goal is to get rid of the 1930s paper-punch system for tickets.