The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) of Northern Illinois, Metra and Cook County, Ill., will jointly launch the Access Pilot Program Feb. 1. The program will extend reduced fares on the entire Metra system to riders experiencing low incomes regionwide. All Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipient household members living within the six-county region (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will) are eligible. The pilot will use the same pricing as the existing reduced fare and zone structure in Metra’s 2024 budget.
The pilot will last for 18 months, ending July 31, 2025. Cook County will contribute $6 million with RTA and Metra also contributing funds to cover the administrative costs and any lost operating revenue. The pilot will help RTA and the transit agencies better understand issues of affordability and structure a permanent program if funding becomes available.
“Fully funding and expanding regional reduced fare and ride free programs increases access for those residents who need it most,” said RTA Executive Director Leanne Redden. “The Access Pilot is a big step forward for our region to allow equitable and affordable transit access to SNAP recipients. This pilot expands upon RTA’s existing reduced fare and ride free programs and provides a seamless transition from the Fair Transit South Cook pilot. Making transit payments more seamless and affordable is a commitment RTA made in our regional transit strategic plan, ‘Transit is the Answer,’ which was co-created with input from thousands of riders, advocates and stakeholders.”
“We are excited to partner with the RTA and Cook County on this new pilot,” said Metra Executive Director and CEO Jim Derwinski. “Advancing equity in transportation is one of the key goals of Metra’s new strategic plan, 'My Metra, Our Future' and this program will go a long way toward helping Metra to meet that goal.”
The Access Program also directly supports one of the goals of the Cook County Transit Plan, which advocates implementing an income-based reduced fare program.
“Making our public transit system more affordable has been a cornerstone of Cook County’s commitment throughout the Fair Transit South Cook pilot,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “Today marks an important milestone as we tailor this benefit to riders who need it most throughout Cook County and the broader region. The Access Program aligns with my administration’s commitment to achieving equity, as outlined in both the Cook County Transit Plan and Policy Roadmap.”
Funding to expand the pilot program to Chicago Transit Authority and Pace is currently being sought. This pilot is currently only valid for Metra and it comes as the Fair Transit South Cook program ends on Jan. 31. Fair Transit South Cook provided reduced fares to all passengers on the Metra Electric and Rock Island lines regardless of income level or need. The Access Pilot Program expands the benefit to the entire Metra system while adding an eligibility requirement for those with the lower incomes, as defined by SNAP eligibility.