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For those of us who are public transit geeks--c'mon, I can't be the only one here--Metra is running an interesting quick online survey for improving their ticketing and fare collection methods.  From what the survey contained (I just took it) they're looking at possibly using cell phones to pay for tickets, or onboard credit card payment (incredibly, they don't yet do this), or using a computer to print out tickets at home or work--kind of like an airline boarding ePass.  They're also collecting names, phone numbers & email addresses from anyone interested in participating in some pilot programs.  I tossed my info in at the end; it might be cool to be the only one on a train generating a Metra ticket by showing the conductor my cell phone or something.  They also have a nice open-ended question #10, where you can make any suggestions you like.  So suggest away, if you want your voice heard by Metra, here:

http://metrarail.com/metra/en/home/service_updates/fare_payment_sur...

I used the opportunity to argue against their byzantine zone structure, where different zones cost more or less than other zones, in favor of standardizing the fares across the system.  I've currently got 4 different 10-ride tickets in my wallet that can take me various places but not most places, which to me is bizarre.  With my A-B, A-C, A-G & C-G tickets in hand I still can't ride two stations north or south of where I live.  It's a crazy outdated system that I hope we can fix.

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What's your solution to the zone system?  People riding to Harvard shouldn't be the same as people riding only a few miles...

The zone system is ok, it's the fact that a one zone trip from A to B requires a different ticket than a one zone trip from F to G.  Same distance but you need a pocket full of 10-ride tickets to get around the system.  I'd like to standardize the zone-to-zone price and use one ticket for all rides, where 5 zones could be deducted from the ticket for a longer ride and 1 zone could be deducted from the same "10-ride" equivalent ticket for a short trip. 

And jeez, get rid of the 19th Century conductor fare collection and move to a restricted platform system like the CTA has.  If you got through the turnstyle onto the platform, you've already run your ticket into the system.  When you exit at your destination, running your ticket through the exit turnstyle deducts the used amount, as it knows where you got on.  No need for a half dozen highly paid conductors on each train, who can't possibly collect all fares or remember if anyone is traveling past their paid destination or isn't telling the truth where they got on.  I'm often riding on the train 5 or 6 stops before a conductor gets to me; if I tell him I just got on, he'd likely never know.

Well the first half I agree with, but the CTA has station attendants which prevent people from jumping the turnstiles.  I don't think you could do the same thing with Metra.  The other solution would be to have tickets sold only by station attendants or machine and then have occasional checks for validated tickets and stiff fines for people who board without a ticket.

Thunder Snow said:

The zone system is ok, it's the fact that a one zone trip from A to B requires a different ticket than a one zone trip from F to G.  Same distance but you need a pocket full of 10-ride tickets to get around the system.  I'd like to standardize the zone-to-zone price and use one ticket for all rides, where 5 zones could be deducted from the ticket for a longer ride and 1 zone could be deducted from the same "10-ride" equivalent ticket for a short trip. 

And jeez, get rid of the 19th Century conductor fare collection and move to a restricted platform system like the CTA has.  If you got through the turnstyle onto the platform, you've already run your ticket into the system.  When you exit at your destination, running your ticket through the exit turnstyle deducts the used amount, as it knows where you got on.  No need for a half dozen highly paid conductors on each train, who can't possibly collect all fares or remember if anyone is traveling past their paid destination or isn't telling the truth where they got on.  I'm often riding on the train 5 or 6 stops before a conductor gets to me; if I tell him I just got on, he'd likely never know.

Well, there's jumpable turnstiles and there's the floor to ceiling spinning gates that are not jumpable, like at the CTA's Polk Street entrance to the Red Line at the Harrison station.  But one security guard at a station with an automated ticket punch, again like the CTA, would be far cheaper and more importantly, efficient at collecting fares than the half dozen (including swing) conductors that are on the morning and evening rush hour Metra trains. 

I've overheard conductors grousing that they barely cleared $60,000 last year, and I have no reason to doubt that they are that highly paid.  That's a huge overhead for a struggling service which we all hope will survive.

As far as collecting fares, when Metra trains are crazy-crowded, like on a Friday evening or a Ravinia Festival night, I've seen the conductors not even bother to try to collect fares in aisles too crowded for them to pass through.  The ticketing-before-boarding method seems to me to be the better way, though there's merit to the spot check and fine big method you suggest.  I recall that was the way the railway in Munich, Germany worked; no one ever looked at my ticket, but we all had them just in case the inspectors came through.

Anyway, I just started this thread to encourage other Metra riders here to get their voices heard by taking the survey.  I think Metra's management listens to things like this.
 
Jared said:

Well the first half I agree with, but the CTA has station attendants which prevent people from jumping the turnstiles.  I don't think you could do the same thing with Metra.  The other solution would be to have tickets sold only by station attendants or machine and then have occasional checks for validated tickets and stiff fines for people who board without a ticket.

I've seen that on crowded UP north trains as well.  On the busiest trains they aren't collecting revenue.  

The turnstyle system with the in/out deductions is similar to how the light rail in DC is run and it works fairly well.  You're deducted a value for how far you go regardless of start or stop.  It does involve a change to a lot of metra's infrastructure and you have many more people on board a metra train than an light rail train going through turnstyles at once.  I would also complicate entry/exit at union station way too much.  

I do think that they should allow for multi-zone trips without needing separate C-D vs. A-C tickets.  Having a card with a stored value system with a discount for specific quantities and being able to print out a ticket at the station before boarding  or present a cell phone e-ticket on board would make it easier for people to purchase/use the tickets you have.  I don't know how many times I've bought a 10 pass only to lose it after 4-6 punches.  

Thunder Snow said:

Well, there's jumpable turnstiles and there's the floor to ceiling spinning gates that are not jumpable, like at the CTA's Polk Street entrance to the Red Line at the Harrison station.  But one security guard at a station with an automated ticket punch, again like the CTA, would be far cheaper and more importantly, efficient at collecting fares than the half dozen (including swing) conductors that are on the morning and evening rush hour Metra trains. 

I've overheard conductors grousing that they barely cleared $60,000 last year, and I have no reason to doubt that they are that highly paid.  That's a huge overhead for a struggling service which we all hope will survive.

As far as collecting fares, when Metra trains are crazy-crowded, like on a Friday evening or a Ravinia Festival night, I've seen the conductors not even bother to try to collect fares in aisles too crowded for them to pass through.  The ticketing-before-boarding method seems to me to be the better way, though there's merit to the spot check and fine big method you suggest.  I recall that was the way the railway in Munich, Germany worked; no one ever looked at my ticket, but we all had them just in case the inspectors came through.

Anyway, I just started this thread to encourage other Metra riders here to get their voices heard by taking the survey.  I think Metra's management listens to things like this.
 
Jared said:

Well the first half I agree with, but the CTA has station attendants which prevent people from jumping the turnstiles.  I don't think you could do the same thing with Metra.  The other solution would be to have tickets sold only by station attendants or machine and then have occasional checks for validated tickets and stiff fines for people who board without a ticket.

Non-collection of fares isn't just on the UP North.  It happens on other lines, too.

The need for separate A-C vs. C-E tickets is obsolete and ridiculous. 

Unfortunately, if we had an honor system, I think that too many people would abuse it.

Liz said:

I've seen that on crowded UP north trains as well.  On the busiest trains they aren't collecting revenue.  

I do think that they should allow for multi-zone trips without needing separate C-D vs. A-C tickets.  Having a card with a stored value system with a discount for specific quantities and being able to print out a ticket at the station before boarding  or present a cell phone e-ticket on board would make it easier for people to purchase/use the tickets you have.  I don't know how many times I've bought a 10 pass only to lose it after 4-6 punches.  

Metra should implement either a turnstyle system like Washington DC has where you scan your card when you enter and exit the platform, and it deducts fare based on distance travel – or a "proof-of-payment" system where basically the honor system is used, but there are periodic ticket checks and the penalty for riding free is very steep. A lot of European countries use this method. You can pay one person to periodically check tickets instead of five conductors.

Don't know about FRA regs for numbers of engineer(s), brakemen & conductors per train.  Numbers of conductors per train varies throughout the day.  At 8 AM, if I'm heading north from Evanston, there's 5 or 6 conductors onboard.  At Winnetka, one or two "swings" get off and head back to Chicago on the next inbound, so there's fewer conductors riding out at Kenosha or Waukegan then there are between Chicago and Winnetka both directions, which makes sense.  I don't mean to say that conductors don't have a difficult job, waking up at 3 AM, having to memorize faces of those who paid vs. passengers who just got on, dealing with the riders who lock themselves in the bathrooms at Waukegan in hopes of not being ticketed before getting off in Chicago and so on.  It's the very crowded trains full of expensive conductors who can't/won't collect a single fare because it's logistically impossible to walk through a jam-packed aisle that makes me think there must be a better way.

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