During the 2019 legislative session, we voted to pass an infrastructure plan that will provide almost $3 billion in much-needed funding to the Regional Transit Authority (RTA).

It was our intention for this investment to increase access to affordable transit options for all residents in the Chicago area.

While overall Metra ridership has increased over the past 15 years, the Metra Electric and Rock Island lines have lost a third of their total ridership due to higher ticket prices and infrequent train schedules. Families in Southwest Side neighborhoods and suburbs are, instead, forced to endure long commutes with multiple transfers to access jobs and educational opportunities.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s proposed pilot program to cut the cost of tickets for riders at stations in Chicago and increase service on the Metra Electric and Rock Island lines would put our region on a long-term path toward sustainable, affordable transit options for all residents.

Riders in Chicago neighborhoods would see fares cut in half to $2.50 for a one-way trip, matching the fare of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). This has the potential to save current Metra commuters close to $1,000 per year.

Chicagoans who currently choose to drive, use ride-hailing services or rely on bus transit options that are often time-consuming and inconvenient would finally have the kind of efficient, affordable transit options that all Chicago residents deserve, regardless of the neighborhood in which they live.

Commuters from suburban communities would also receive fare reductions and be able to take advantage of the more frequent Metra service that is included in the proposed plan.

This pilot program has the potential to increase Metra ridership in the communities that we represent by over 80,000 daily riders. While there are understandable concerns regarding how this might impact the bottom line of the CTA, we must look past the numbers and prioritize the people in our communities who rely on public transit. Through collaboration between the county, city and our transit agencies, those dollars can be recovered.

However, what cannot be recovered are the hours upon hours that parents spend commuting, instead of with their kids, and the college students crammed onto buses, rather than studying.

This unprecedented collaboration between Metra, the CTA and the RTA’s Pace Suburban Bus would create a model for future improvements across the region while providing affordable options that commuters in our districts need now.

The Chicago region is at its best when all of our residents are connected. We urge President Preckwinkle, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and our transit agencies to collaborate and implement this proposed pilot program.

State Rep. Kelly Burke, State Rep. Fran Hurley and State Sen. Bill Cunningham