Fair Transit South Cook pilot labeled a success in first annual report

May 5, 2022
The final two years of the program will see the partners working on an integrated fare payment solution that supports the program’s goals of providing more equitable mobility.

Partners in the first year of the Fair Transit South Cook pilot program have called the initiative a success as they look toward two more years of the program.

The three-year pilot program began in January 2021 and is designed to improve transit service and reduce costs for riders on the south side of Chicago, south suburban Cook County and north Will County. The program is funded by Cook County with regional partners Metra, Pace and the Regional Transportation Authority. Fair Transit South Cook offers discounted fares of 50 percent on Metra Electric and Rock Island lines and increased service on Pace’s 352 Halsted route by 25 percent.

The program is targeted to areas where the transportation costs as a percentage of income is considered “very high” and where more than 30 percent of households have an average commute length of more than 60 minutes.

“Through the Fair Transit pilot, we are addressing inequalities in transportation by decreasing fare costs that overburden south Cook residents and increasing service to provide commuters more flexibility in their travels,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “This program is an important component in achieving transit equity across Cook County.”

The results of the pilot’s first year show that:

  • The Metra Electric and Rock Island lines are recovering ridership faster than other Metra lines.
  • Riders report taking Metra Electric/Rock Island lines more often because of reduced fares.
  • Lower-income neighborhoods are benefitting the most from the fare reductions on Metra Electric.
  • The program is cutting transportation costs so that households can spend more on what is important to them.
  • Many Metra Electric/Rock Island riders would have driven to their destinations or to a less expensive fare zone were it not for the program, helping reduce congestion and carbon emissions.
  • The expansion of Route 352 service is making the service more convenient for low-income riders, but it has not increased ridership.

“Pace is grateful for Cook County President Preckwinkle’s investment in public transportation and for our partners at Metra. Together, we have made transportation to employment, education and medical care equitable, reliable, affordable and convenient for the residents of southern Cook County,” said Pace Executive Director Melinda J. Metzger. “Based on the success of this pilot, the Pace Board of Directors voted to make these improvements a permanent part of our service.”

“It was a very easy decision for Metra to say yes,” said Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski. “We could not be happier to be working with the county and Pace to provide reliable and affordable transportation to essential workers and other residents of the south side and south suburbs.”

Cook County says it will work with its transit partners to implement an integrated fare payment solution with discounted transfers and a single payment system that works cohesively between each service in the final two years of the pilot project. The county says this integration would benefit riders beyond south Cook County by making the transit system more convenient to use across the region.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Editor in Chief

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the magazine’s editorial direction 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.