Cook County Looks For Ways To Better Mass Transit

Jim Gudas
June 19, 2019 - 7:17 am

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Metra, Pace and Cook County held town hall meetings Tuesday in Harvey to gather public input before creating a pilot program to enhance connections between trains and buses and improve access to jobs and education for south suburban commuters.

Cook County Transit Manager Benet Haller said the goals of improving public transportation in south Cook County include improving access to employment and education for south suburban commuters, making transportation more affordable and convenient, and simplifying transfers between Metra trains and Pace buses.

He said one goal is to lower fares on the Metra Electric Line and the Rock Island for all Cook County riders.

"Basically a CTA-like fare for Metra - the Rock Island and Metra Electric within the city - and then about two steps down from the current Metra fare for Rock Island and Metra Electric within the county," Haller said.

As part of the town hall event, members of the public were asked to fill out a survey asking them to rank potential improvements to Metra or Pace and detail whether those improvements would encourage them to ride more often.

The list of potential improvements included lower fares, free/low cost transfers between transit providers, increased service frequency on Metra or Pace, faster trips, better service alignment, station upgrades, the ability to use the Ventra card on Metra, better parking and the availability of car-sharing, and shuttles or other guaranteed rides between work/home and the nearest Metra station.

The meetings followed a Cook County study that found south Cook County has a greater population loss, a lower median income, a higher unemployment rate and slower job growth than the rest of the county. The study also found the number of jobs accessible via transit is lower in the south suburbs than for other parts of the county, while the average commute time is longer. Metra also pointed out ridership on the Metra Electric and Rock Island lines, which serve the south suburbs has fallen faster than on other Metra lines.

In response to the study, Cook County, Metra and Pace said they are looking for ways to improve service and access to jobs, reduce transportation costs, increase the extent to which Metra stations serve as multimodal hubs, support development near stations and increase ridership.