Cook County targets January 2021 launch for Fair Transit South Cook pilot project

Oct. 19, 2020
The county is partnering with Metra and Pace to lower fares and expand service to south suburban communities and residents on Chicago’s south side.

Cook County in Illinois will advance the Fair Transit South Cook, a three-year pilot project, to improve transit service and lower commuter rail fares for south suburban county residents, as well as those residing on Chicago’s south side.  

“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,” Cook County President Toni 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.”

The Fair Transit South Cook project will provide lower Metra fares on the Metra Electric and Rock Island lines and new service options for Pace bus service to increase use of transit for residents and essential workers.

The goal is to launch the program in January 2021 with a 50-percent reduction in Metra fares, which the county says can be implemented immediately as it does not require a change to the commuter rail service’s fare structure.

“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.

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 currently working with Metra and Pace on the pilot program and the county expects the transit agencies to approve intergovernmental agreements with Cook County this fall.

Cook County is funding the revenue offsets and operational improvements.

“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 initiative was being planned by the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways (CCDOTH) prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The county explains a robust community outreach effort is a key component to the initiative. CCDOTH was awarded a $330,000 Fiscal Year 2020 Accelerating Innovative Mobility grant from the Federal Transit Administration that supports community outreach and engagement around the program.

The initiative’s community outreach plan features 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.”

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.