Seismic shifts coming to Metra zoning and fares in 2024

Commuter exit the 405 from Chicago at the Joliet Gateway Center station on Monday, May 15, 2023 in Joliet.

Metra leaders adopted sweeping updates to fares and zoning Friday, reforms that officials said would simplify travel on the system for riders.

The changes include shrinking the 10-zone system to four, eliminating the popular Super Saver $100 monthly pass and offering tickets below or at par with pricing before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is the most monumental, forward-facing thing we’ve done at Metra in the last 40 years,” Executive Director Jim Derwinski said.

Board members also approved a 2024 operating budget of $1.1 billion.

Metra introduced the $100 Super Saver monthly pass in 2022 to entice riders to return after experiencing a pandemic slump.

The new zones and fares go into effect Feb. 1. A monthly pass, for example, between downtown and Lombard (Zone 3) would cost $110, compared with the pre-pandemic rate of $181.25.

The 10-ride pass will disappear and be replaced with a Day Pass 5-Pack. The new product comprises five daily passes that can be used any day. It could be shared by up to five people riding together and is only available on Metra’s Ventra app.

Meanwhile, a one-way ticket between downtown and Arlington Heights would decrease from $6.75 to $5.50, while a trip to Lisle would remain $6.75.

Metra also is dropping its promotional $6 and $10 Day Passes

Under the plan, all downtown stations would be in Zone 1.

Zone 2 would include many Chicago stops as well as suburbs closer to the city such as Brookfield, Evanston, Franklin Park, Harvey and Oak Park. Zone 3 encompasses the next ring of towns such as Arlington Heights, Downers Grove (Fairview Station), Glenview, Lombard, Chicago Ridge, Wheeling and Winnetka. Zone 4 absorbs farther municipalities including Barrington, Elgin, Geneva, Joliet, Libertyville, Mundelein and Naperville.

The $1.1 billion budget is higher than the $980 million plan adopted in 2023 but includes $65 million that will be reimbursed by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District.`

Officials said inflation, higher diesel fuel costs and additional staff are among the reasons for the increase.

The agency still is using federal COVID-19 aid to offset ridership tanking during the pandemic. Those funds will dry up in 2026, creating a “fiscal cliff” that Metra, the Chicago Transit Authority and Pace all are facing.