Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced Thursday, Oct. 15, that county officials are advancing plans to improve transit service and provide lower Metra fares for Chicago’s south side and south suburban Cook County residents.
Fair Transit South Cook, a three-year pilot project, aims to increase use of transit for these residents and essential workers by providing lower fares on Metra and new service options on Pace.
The pilot will focus on transit services within south Cook County and parts of Will County, and will impact the Metra Electric and Rock Island lines. Cook County is currently working with the transit agencies to implement the pilot program, with a goal of officially launching in early January 2021 with a reduction in Metra fares.
Metra and Pace are expected to approve intergovernmental agreements with Cook County in the coming months.
“The goal is to increase service and decrease costs for some of our community’s most underserved residents who experience longer commute times than North Side residents and who may spend up to half of their income on transportation expenses,” Preckwinkle said. “Now is the time, given the economic challenges from COVID-19, to showcase our commitment to equity by addressing the critical need in the communities most severely impacted by the pandemic.”
Initially, the pilot would establish 50 percent reduced fares on the Metra Electric and Rock Island lines, and those rates will be assessed as the pilot progresses. This requires no changes to Metra’s fare structure and can be implemented immediately.
The plan also includes expansion of Pace’s 352 Halsted Service which will improve the hours and frequency of service between the CTA Red Line 95th/Dan Ryan Station and the Pace Chicago Heights Terminal on weekdays, Saturday and Sunday. As Fair Transit moves forward, additional improvements to service options will be made.
Cook County is funding the revenue offsets and operational improvements. The county has also secured a $330,000 Accelerating Innovative Mobility (AIM) grant from the Federal Transit Administration to support community outreach and engagement around the program.
The Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways began plans for this initiative before the COVID-19 pandemic, working in partnership with the transit agencies, along with the Chicago Metropolitan Planning Agency and the Regional Transportation Authority.
A key component of the pilot includes a robust community outreach plan featuring digital surveys, pop-up events (following COVID-19 guidelines) and virtual input opportunities. The effort will target both existing and potential riders to better understand transit preferences, constraints and factors that influence ridership.