Metra, Pace update Will County Board on 2020 budgets

Representatives from Metra and Pace visited the Will County Board on Thursday to update council members about their 2020 budget proposals and the challenges they’re facing.

Richard Kwasneski, Pace’s chairman of the board, told Will County officials that ridership is up nearly 1% from last year at its Joliet division.

“Even though the trends of public transit are down throughout the country, Will County is actually improving ridership,” Kwasneski said.

Pace’s “bus-on-shoulder” service on Interstate 55, with stops in Will County, has been experiencing problems with overcrowding. Kwasneski said this was primarily because of a lack of equipment. He said Pace serves about 3,000 riders daily with up to about 100 trips a day on the road.

“We don’t have enough buses,” he said.

To save about $1 million, Pace also decided to eliminate or reduce “underperforming” routes. Still, Pace is receiving $340 million over the next five years from the state capital program, which it says will go toward equipment and a new garage and lot in Plainfield.

He said that other types of local routes have seen success, such as one to and from Lewis University in Romeoville which students particularly like using to get to Chicago.

Pace will be holding public meetings on its 2020 budget and programs, including one from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday on the second floor of the downtown Joliet Public Library.

Norman Carlson, Metra’s board chairman, also spoke to the Will County Board and told of a balanced budget. Carlson said Metra’s equipment was in “much better shape” than it was in the past.

Metra announced this month its proposed 2020 balanced budget would not require fare increases for riders for a second straight year, thanks to the state capital program.

Carlson said that Metra will devote significant funds to improving its bridges, including ones that are 100 years old, although he said they’re regularly inspected.

Carlson said Metra was working on some bridges in Chicago that were built in the 1890s.

“They did not think about automobiles when they designed those bridges,” Carlson said. “They were thinking about horse and buggy.”

In addition, Carlson said Metra is hoping operation costs won’t be too burdensome as it continues to make upgrades required by federal safety standards.