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Metra riders, prepare for fare to rise 40 cents each way
By Joseph Ryan | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 11/17/2007 12:36 AM

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Metra riders should brace for a 10 percent fare increase next year if lawmakers don't approve a transit-bailout tax hike by then.

The fare increase, set for Feb. 1, will raise one-way fares 40 cents, from $3.90 to $4.30, for riders boarding in suburbs like Lisle, Arlington Heights and Roselle. Monthly passes for those areas will increase about $11 to $116.10.

The higher fares could bring in nearly $21 million to help cover $40 million in red ink at the suburban rail agency. It is just one of a slew of pending service cuts and rate increases across the transit system.

Pace bus riders could face a 50-cent fare hike and the elimination of 66 routes and night service come Jan. 20. On the same day, CTA riders could be dealing with route cuts and fare hikes as high as $1.50 on the el.

"They have just got to start working on fixing this," Arlington Heights Village President and Metra board member Arlene Mulder said of lawmakers who can't agree on a tax hike to bailout transit. "And they have to realize that transit is not a luxury. It is a necessity."

Transit officials have been pushing lawmakers for nearly a year to raise regional sales taxes by a quarter-cent to bring in more than $300 million. The increase would add 25 cents to a $100 retail bill.

Since September, transit officials have twice backed off of "doomsday" threats when Gov. Rod Blagojevich came through with extra cash to buy another few weeks to negotiate a deal.

The governor opposes the sales tax hike and wants to use money from new casinos instead.

Legislative leaders and the governor last met to hash out plans to solve the problem on Wednesday. The summit devolved into shouting, and House Speaker Michael Madigan walked out early.

Meanwhile, Metra officials also are planning to eliminate 100 of about 4,000 employee positions and freeze nonunion pay raises while reducing station cleaning and equipment upgrades.

Metra officials say the money crunch also is threatening to hold back progress on key expansion plans, including the suburban STAR Line, which is supposed to link O'Hare International Airport, Elgin and Joliet.