Metra mischaracterizes why people buy 10-ride tickets


A outbound Metra commuter rail train leaving the College Ave station in Wheaton, IL on a misty cold election night in November. Photo by Duane Rapp. 

“The 10-ride is meant as a convenience media, offered as a convenience to riders to save them from having to buy 10 one-ways,” said Metra spokesman Michael Gillis. (The 10-ride ticket costs as much as 9 rides.)

The 10-ride ticket is meant to save customers money and attract them to using transit; otherwise it wouldn’t have been priced at the cost of 9 one-way tickets. Saving money is why people pre-pay for several days worth of rides on Chicago Transit Authority and Pace. Selling tickets in bulk – the 10-ride ticket comes on a single piece of paper – saves Metra money, too. And when CTA and Pace customers use prepaid fares instead of cash, those agencies spend less money having to serve as banks and driving armored trucks around town.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports:

Metra’s board is meeting Friday and is expected to vote on a proposal to increase the price of the 10-ride tickets about 11 percent. Metra staff is expected to recommend changing the cost of a 10-ride to the cost of 10 one-way tickets, instead of nine.

Metra changed fare rules on tickets earlier this year: 10-ride tickets stop being refundable after 3 months; one-way tickets expire after 14-days instead of 1-year.

The discount elimination was discussed at Metra’s public meetings in the region this month. “Ten-ride ticket users account for about 22 percent of Metra’s ridership”, according to the Chicago Tribune. Convenience is one factor, but cost is another.

Update: The board okayed eliminating the discount, formal vote later

Transportation reporter Richard Wronski reports in the Chicago Tribune today after a Metra boarding. I’m going to break it down what’s happening.

“Let’s try to run this place like a business,” argued board member Jack Schaffer, who supported the hike. “Smart businesses price their product well.”

Businesses reward frequent patrons. Running a business means competition. Driving is Metra’s biggest competitor.

But board member James LaBelle said he was opposed to the increase because “I think its unfair to single out one set of riders.”

Board members disagreed on even calling the hike a fare increase.

But Mike McCoy, a board member from Kane County who opposed increase, said “to phrase it any other was is disingenuous.”

It is disingenuous. This is a fare hike: passengers who buy a monthly pass pay the least per trip; passengers who buy the 10-ride ticket pay the second least per trip; passengers who buy one-way tickets pay the third least per trip (also known as the most). But if the measure is approved by the board later this year, there will only be two classes of tickets (disregarding the weekend pass): monthly and single rides.

Passengers who buy the 10-ride ticket receive only a single advantage over someone who buys 10 one-way tickets: the 10-ride ticket expires later. A passenger who loses the 10-ride ticket now has an even greater loss. Metra cannot transition to a new fare medium soon enough. CTA and Pace will offer Ventra next year, increasing the number and availability of fare products and maintaining the variable-day unlimited passes.

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20 thoughts on “Metra mischaracterizes why people buy 10-ride tickets”

  1. The 10-ride discount also offsets the advance use of my funds interest free, from purchase date to the day I use up the last punch. If I’m an infrequent user of a particular route, it may take me months or even a year to use up the ticket. Meanwhile, Metra has been investing that money all year long for free. But the Metra fare collection and ticketing system has been a mess for years: an A-C 10-ride should be valid on any three zones in the system, say C-E or F-H, but currently that’s not the case, so I end up with a wallet full of 10-rides for different destinations. If there’s no discount anymore, I’ll buy single tickets from here on out.

  2. I find there is some convenience to the 10-ride ticket, in that it allows me to arrive at the station just a few minutes before my train departs. I never know how long the line will be at the ticket windows, so planning how soon to arrive to purchase a single ride ticket is stressful.

    However, I no longer ride Metra as often as I once did, and don’t buy 10-ride tickets because I will not take 10 rides before the ticket expires.

    1. I agree. Each time I arrive at the station just in time to catch the train, having a 10-ride ticket saves me the $3 service fee for buying a ticket on the train (when boarding at a station that has a functional vending machine or open ticket counter). But I can get the same benefit by keeping an extra one-ride ticket in my wallet, and I’m only gambling $2.25, not $22.50 (Zone A-D ride).

  3. The fact that Metra tickets expire is ridiculous. As long as the fares don’t go up, I should be able to use a ticket I purchased a year ago, but never used. Tickets should also be labelled by the NUMBER of zones, not the exact zones I will travel though. A zone B-E ticket should be equivalent to an A-D ticket. Or better yet, implement a fare system where a card is scanned upon entry and exiting the station, and the appropriate amount is deducted from my account, a la DC Metro. Then we can eliminate the extra conductor positions, saving money that can be used for running more trains. Understandably, this system could get a bit chaotic at Union and Ogilvie stations, so those stations can be without a fare gate, and upon exiting at another station, the system would recognize that no incoming scan occurred and automatically assume zone A. For inbound passengers, the system would need to recognize that no outgoing scan occurred – possibly waiting a specified amount of time before assuming that the arriving station was zone A. i.e. If a scan does not occur, assume the maximim fare knowing which station the passenger boarded/alighted.

    1. I like your idea about labeling the number of zones traveled instead of the actual zone pair. Although if I were ever traveling between A and C and instead needed to go from C to E, I would expect a conductor to understand.
      I think some of the Metra stations on the Electric line had turnstiles but they got rid of them. Most of the suburban stations could not have turnstiles though, because of their design (it would enable too many ways to get around the turnstiles). They’d have to be completely reconfigured at a high cost depending on the station. Maybe if there were scanners for fare cards on the train à la Amsterdam, which does deduct the max fare possible if no scan occurs on the way out. This does require more self-policing and random checks. Maybe if fare checkers were employed instead of roving conductors for each train, money could be saved (your fare wouldn’t be checked every time, but it would be unpredictable enough and the fare high enough to discourage free rides).

      1. “Tag on, tag off” is how it’s done on Caltrain, the heavy rail commuter line that runs up and down the San Francisco peninsula between that city and San Jose, for those passengers with the Clipper Card (similar to Chicago Card, but different in that it holds cash AND a monthly pass or 8-ride ticket). There are fare inspectors who check those with monthly passes stored.

      2. That would work as well. A lot of European transport systems use such a “proof of fare” system. Basically, buy tickets as normal, but no one comes around to punch your ticket. They have random checks and if you get caught without a ticket, there’s a very steep fine.

  4. Meanwhile, Metra is still failing too often to collect fares on the trains. This is especially true on weekends and holidays. Trains are increasingly crowded because fewer cars are open. On days such as Bears game days, when crowding is predictable, they don’t have enough conductors to collect fares, so many passengers ride for free.

    I have to wonder what the bottom line would be if they could reliably collect 95%+ of fares due.

  5. Businesses have to abide by the CARD act which prohibits the expiration of prepaid gift cards for 5 years. Having Metra tickets expire after 90 days isn’t running things like a business, it’s running things like a loan shark.

    If Metra ticket buying behavior is similar to gift card users, then Metra is actually making more off the 10-ticket purchases even with the discount. I’d be interested to hear from Metra what portion of the 10-ticket packs go unused. News reports show about 5-7% of gift cards go unused after a year. I imagine the figure for unused Metra tickets at 90 days is 10% or greater. The “discount” that Metra now wants to take away is likely a disguised attempt to get more revenue from a group of passengers that is already paying more for less service (rides + transaction costs) than single ticket buyers.

  6. The Trib article mentioned that they were calling it a “policy change” rather than a “fare hike”. I’m not against fare hikes when they’re honestly and reasonably discussed and necessary, but this is a bunch of hooey.

  7. What about the interest that Metra earns on passengers who by 10 rides in advance, whether or not they use the tickets.

  8. I’ve been trying to think of something intelligent to say, but I can’t. Because that’s how stupid it is.

    Are monthly pass riders such an overwhelming majority that Metra can indeed afford not to give a donkey’s butt about everyone else?

    1. I think Metra has a heavily biased view that its riders are the regular commuters riding in from the suburbs in the morning and back out to the suburbs in the evening.

      No doubt it’s true that that is what their majority of riders do. But I think sometimes it seems their perception is these are their only riders.

  9. I honestly don’t see why they can’t use a variant of the Clipper system. Tag in, tag out. At the downtown terminals, they could string bollards across the entrances with card readers on them for people to tag in (basically like “open” turnstiles). People who do not tag out at their destination end up paying the maximum fare. People who neglect to tag in can be fined stiffly when the conductor comes around and does random checks using an electronic card reader. Anybody that is in a rush and misses the card reader could still buy a cash fare from the conductor to avoid the fee. And of course, you’d have the option of buying monthly passes, which would simply affect the way billing is handled.

    I can’t believe Cubic didn’t pitch this to Metra. Gotta be some backwards thinkers in Metra administration.

  10. Metra one way tickets still advertise on the back the ten ride tickets as a 20% discount. It has been many months since this was reduced to 10%. At this point is this false advertising?

  11. Just read that it will cost $5 to use Ventra unless you “register” your card with them – so RTA knows you even more. Ugh

    1. Did you read that this $5 is credited to your account for you to use on transit rides?

      The purpose of registration is so that the card can be replaced quickly if lost or stolen and so that your fares or pass is not lost.

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