Cook County Advances Fair Transit South Cook Pilot Program

October 15, 2020

Partnership with transit agencies aims to improve transit service and increase ridership 

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced during her annual budget address today 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 this fall.

“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,” President 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.”

President Preckwinkle said Fair Transit aligns with other transportation and economic investments her administration is making to strengthen the County’s overall economic health.

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.

“Metra looks forward to implementing this pilot and improving transit on the south side and in the south suburbs,” said Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski. “We want to thank President Preckwinkle not only for her leadership on this issue, but also for Cook County’s financial assistance.”

“We always appreciate the opportunity to explore new ways to make public transportation more accessible for all,” said Pace Executive Director Rocky Donahue. “Thanks to the County’s financial support, we can continue with pilots like this to find the best ways to improve our region’s transit system.”

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.

“We are very supportive of this pilot moving forward. It aligns with our goal of supporting new approaches to our region’s transportation challenges” said Kelly Welsh, President, Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago. “The strength of Chicago’s economy rests on our transportation network and it’s going to take these kinds of innovative advancements to make our region a better place for everyone to live, work and do business.”

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.  

“We’ve been advocating to ‘ignite the pilot’ and bring better transit options to south side and south suburban commuters for many years,” said Linda Thisted of the Coalition for a Modern Metra Electric. “We are enthusiastic to see the momentum and look forward to its implementation.”