The Chainlink

Metra's inconsistency makes me want to drive. I can't be the only one?

My family is car-lite. One car. I've been riding Metra for over a year to work and the city for whatnot. Something the entire time has stuck out at me.

I will preface the below with the understanding that I know it's getting better, but that it exists at all is a problem if you support a real workable public transit system.

That said. There's one thing above all others that makes me want to buy a second car and use it. Inconsistency. Let's start with what hits home with the chainlink the most. Bikes.

I can't trust Metra when it comes to bikes. I'm lucky to ride the Rock Island and not have a problem. The conductors are nice. This isn't true across the board though. There's always that idea in the back of my head that I could be denied on a conductor's choice.

I'm ok with the rush hour restrictions. Could they be better? Not having to wait till 7:40 to bring a bike back home. Yes, they could. It's not consistant though. Of course the taste brought this to mind. Bikes are not allowed on the Metra for over a week. If someone were reverse commuting and depended on their bike for the last mile? They are out of luck.

So what's the option? The distances are too great, so you drive. You buy a car and you drive.

Next, the catering to downtown events is ridiculous. Last night I had my bag searched getting on the train after my Python user group meeting. I had an empty glass growler. One I really liked. After arguing and realizing I'm a regular they let me carry it home, but it hammered down an important point. I can't trust taking the Metra. Unless I'm keeping close track of of whatever rules they are deciding to enforce this week. 

Except in very very rare cases, I can get on the CTA and expect the same rules day in and out. It's a real transportation system.

What it seems to come down to is that Metra puts a lot of restrictions into place catering to events to make their lives easier. They could have not have searched bags. They could have just enforced rules about unruliness on the trains, just like any other day.

It seems like Metra if for exactly two groups. Commuters obviously. Then tourists. It's not an alternative transportation system.

End rant. :)

All that said, the seats are really comfy.

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I often feel the same way about restrictions related to special events.  I agree with you about the usually good conductors on the Rock Island.  The extra security hired for special events like the Taste can be truly oppressive.  I've had hassles with them on many occasions, which tends to make me NOT want to ride Metra during these events.  Since I'm close enough to take CTA, that's my usual alternative.  It sometimes means that I do stuff on the south side instead of going downtown or further north.

I guess the commuters and events pay the bills or have the best lobbying groups so metra listens to them first :))

I doubt the Taste organizers requested a bike or alcohol ban. 

+1

Metra is its own worst enemy.  In order to succeed in becoming the GO-TO choice for everyday commuters it has to be an everyday choice for them.  Otherwise, it is just a sometimes thing and those commuters will continue to use other options like driving.  


Metra needs to make itself be the path of least resistance so that people choose it first -rather than being a last-choice thing when other options don't pan out.  But Metra seems to always throw up resistance to letting people ride their option every day rather than break down resistance so that taking Metra would be easy way.   

It's too bad, because until they make themselves the obvious no-brainer choice people are going to continue to drive rather than avail themselves of taking the train.  It's just too much of a bother right now, especially if you are bringing a bike along for last-mile connectivity.   

Of course. I don't think they did. Catering might have been the wrong word. I think Metra is catering to themselves more. It's easier to search bags than to enforce the rules after you're on the train.

Jared said:

I doubt the Taste organizers requested a bike or alcohol ban. 

The only time I've seen excessive drunkenness on Metra was on an alcohol ban day when they were having the South Side Irish Parade.

Adam "Cezar" Jenkins said:

Of course. I don't think they did. Catering might have been the wrong word. I think Metra is catering to themselves more. It's easier to search bags than to enforce the rules after you're on the train.

Jared said:

I doubt the Taste organizers requested a bike or alcohol ban. 

I have to clarify. Metra is great for commuting. I'll probably always use if for commuting. That said, the inconsistencies make me think twice during all of other time periods. Evenings, weekends, etc.

Yeah, the bike bans, midday track switching surprises and mercurial conductors are all a pain, but overall, I'm willing to put that all aside for speed, comfort, ontime performance and security.  I'm a very regular user of Metra and am a big fan of the $7 weekend pass, good from Saturday sunup to midnight Sunday anywhere in the system.

But Metra's fare collection system is hopelessly outdated.  Each train carries a half dozen highly paid conductors who can't possibly collect fares from every rider.  It's not humanly possible to remember every rider who's paid or not.  Every ride, I'm either asked for my ticket numerous times or ignored altogether. They could issue club style wristbands or use invisible UV ink hand stamps for those whose 10-ride tickets they've punched, but don't.

They just recently started "experimenting" with automated ticket vending machines at the downtown stations though they've been on the Metra Electric line for years.  Credit cards have only been accepted at ticketing stations for a couple of years--welcome to the 1960's Metra!  And there's no alternative to cash if you buy your ticket onboard; conductors can't process checks or plastic.  No ATM's onboard either, so either have cash or get off and walk.

My biggest peeve with Metra is lack of information.  I hate standing on the normally correct platform waiting for a train, only to have it arrive on the opposite platform, because of midday track work.  Are there Metra customer service reps on the affected platforms giving directions, as the CTA usually manages to do?  Nope.  Temporary signage with directions?  Again no.  Electronic message board displaying the change?  Are you kidding me?  You stand there like a mope, with no way to cross over to the platform in time and watch your train sail away, knowing you'll have another chance in an hour or two.  At that time, you'll have to guess if your train will be on the alternate platform, or if it will return to the normal side. Infuriating.

 

Exactly.  And overburdened conductors on overcrowded festival trains can often collect only a fraction of the fares.

Adam "Cezar" Jenkins said:

I have to clarify. Metra is great for commuting. I'll probably always use if for commuting. That said, the inconsistencies make me think twice during all of other time periods. Evenings, weekends, etc.

this is parallel to the dicussion i started. ive been taking pictures of the empty disabled seating spaces where bikes go. EMPTY! BOTH WAYS! ARGH! this morning, there was a bike - but a foldie, in a bag. its still a friggin BIKE! its still in that space! ARGH! i will be writing a long email detailing my 4 years on the metra. tho someone suggested a petition may be more influential. as julie noted, maybe some 'lobbying' is in order.

Metra was the determining factor in adding a folder to my bike stable.  If you're at all a multimodal traveler, I recommend it.

Someone made a good point about the alcohol container ban. "What if I bought an expensive bottle of scotch and wanted to bring it home?".

Another scenario in which Metra should be dealing with behavior, not with items.

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