- Low-income riders of the Chicago-area commuter rail system can access reduced fares on all lines through an 18-month pilot program launched Feb. 1 by the rail operator, Metra; Cook County, Illinois; and the Regional Transportation Authority.
- All household members who reside in the six-county region served by Metra and are recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are eligible. SNAP serves households with incomes at or less than 165% of the federal poverty level.
- The new pilot program is an expansion of RTA’s free- and reduced-fare programs open to older adults, people with disabilities, and military personnel.
While many transit agencies offer reduced-fare programs, just 16 offered income-based fare programs on commuter rail lines, according to the 2022 Public Transportation Fare Database compiled by the American Public Transportation Association.
The Cook County/RTA/Metra program follows a three-year-old program that was limited to just two lines and ended Jan. 31. It provided reduced fares for all riders on these lines. “This discount helped increase ridership through the pandemic and put more money into the pockets of Metra passengers on those two lines,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle at a Thursday press conference.
Cook County is contributing $6 million to cover administrative costs and lost operating revenue, with RTA and Metra also pitching in. The program does not include the Chicago Transit Authority bus and rapid transit system or Pace suburban bus lines. “Cook County will continue working with its partners at the RTA and Metra as well as CTA and Pace to explore new ways to continue rolling out similar benefits throughout the entire system,” Preckwinkle said. “That will take time and additional funding, but we’re committed to making it happen.”
RTA Executive Director Leanne Redden, speaking at the press conference, noted that the state of Illinois “only covers a fraction of the costs of our current reduced fare programs” and that the regional transit system is facing at least a $730 million fiscal operating budget gap beginning in 2026, making it one of many transit agencies with similar financial challenges.