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Metra UP service shenanigans

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west point

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Why can' the CHICAGO station made so everyone getting on or off the commuter trains pass thru fare gates? Give the conductors a different punch for each day of the week. That way rider's tickets would note if they had not been punched. In the long run put in electronic ticket scanners that riders will have to swipe before getting on or off outlying stations. VRE altready does this.
 

Nick Farr

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That would probably work just fine on the North Line and the Northwest Line, which carry little freight. But I doubt UP would be happy with Metra scheduling or dispatching the freight-heavy West Line.
Dispatching and all planned traffic control is always a service run by the host railroad, isn't it?

@west point also makes a good point about ticketing. These functions should probably be streamlined/unified across Metra and made electronic.
 

Trogdor

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Why can' the CHICAGO station made so everyone getting on or off the commuter trains pass thru fare gates? Give the conductors a different punch for each day of the week. That way rider's tickets would note if they had not been punched. In the long run put in electronic ticket scanners that riders will have to swipe before getting on or off outlying stations. VRE altready does this.
For one, Ogilvie Transportation Center’s platforms are also pedestrian corridors for people getting from the main building (which is also an office building, food court, breezeway, etc.) to the public market downstairs in the north end of the station. Forcing fare gates would eliminate this usage.

Second, a couple of rush hour trains dumping several hundred people each onto a limited number of fare gates would cause massive backups while people exit.

Combining fare gates with hand-punched tickets is just screaming 1950 (then again, nearly everything else about Metra’s operating practices also screams 1950, so maybe) and would never be effective.

What might work better is a proof-of-payment system with a tap on/tap off setup for Ventra cards, and time-limited tickets for those without cards, instead of fare gates (which, honestly, wouldn’t work for a system like Metra). The main challenge is that with 242 stations through a very wide, spread-out service area, it’s going to require a massive investment in technology and infrastructure (you’d basically need fare machines at every station, and people to maintain them, security to protect whatever cash gets paid in them, etc.), and once you do all that, the math probably comes back saying you’re better off just paying the conductors to sell tickets on board.
 

Nick Farr

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What might work better is a proof-of-payment system with a tap on/tap off setup for Ventra cards, and time-limited tickets for those without cards, instead of fare gates (which, honestly, wouldn’t work for a system like Metra). The main challenge is that with 242 stations through a very wide, spread-out service area, it’s going to require a massive investment in technology and infrastructure (you’d basically need fare machines at every station, and people to maintain them, security to protect whatever cash gets paid in them, etc.), and once you do all that, the math probably comes back saying you’re better off just paying the conductors to sell tickets on board.
Basically this. Force the usage of Ventra cards for everything except single use tickets. Allow people to continue to use their smartphones for tickets (scannable via QR Code). Scanning is way better than punching. No reason for faregates, just make the trains Proof of Purchase as they are now.
 

railiner

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Well, that's not how federal law works. They are forced to. They are operating this service under the original common-carrier law. Just like utility companies are required to provide service to anyone in their chartered area.

If they want to get out of that obligation, they have to pay through the nose to get out of it, like other railroads did...



And Metra's willing to, but UP has apparently been totally unreasonable in negotiations. UP is trying to break the law rather than buying their way out of their obligations as they should. Metra could certainly use the money.
Where are you finding this information....showing that UP is not "buying their way out" "like other railroads did"?
I would like to compare the stats to support your assertion....I don't see any mention in the original article...
 

jebr

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What might work better is a proof-of-payment system with a tap on/tap off setup for Ventra cards, and time-limited tickets for those without cards, instead of fare gates (which, honestly, wouldn’t work for a system like Metra). The main challenge is that with 242 stations through a very wide, spread-out service area, it’s going to require a massive investment in technology and infrastructure (you’d basically need fare machines at every station, and people to maintain them, security to protect whatever cash gets paid in them, etc.), and once you do all that, the math probably comes back saying you’re better off just paying the conductors to sell tickets on board.
I'm not exactly sure how much it would cost to retrofit each station to have fare machines and validators, but I don't think it'd be terribly expensive. Some stations already have them, and you could get by with a basic model to cover those that want/need to buy fares at smaller stations and don't have access to the mobile app. At the arterial-bus rapid transit stations here in MSP, they've purchased fare machines that look quite a bit like the electronic parking meter machines that are once-a-block, and if I remember the contract right the cost was about $10,000 per machine (though they don't give change.) You'd still need a separate validator for Ventra cards on the platform, but my gut estimate is that you could get one for under $10,000 - so $20,000 per platform, or $40,000 per station for the base set-up. Ongoing costs aren't zero, but if there's already data connectivity to the station then the machines can tie into that, otherwise data connectivity via cellular would likely be fast/cheap enough to be nearly a rounding error, considering the minimal amount of data that would need to be sent.

I'm not sure if you'd be able to remove any labor costs from the trains themselves (you'd still need people to randomly fare check, and I'm not sure if the conductor staffing level is such that removing fare collection from their duties would allow a train to run with fewer conductors) but it'd still be at least somewhat easier for passengers - being able to buy a ticket by card at any station, without needing to set up a specific app, would be a nice step forward, and the conductors don't have to worry about someone trying to steal cash off of them (I'm not sure if that's common, but it seems like it's at least a possibility.)
 

MikefromCrete

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Metra has long used fare gates on its self-operated Electric division...
Metra hasn't used those for years. Passenger complaints brought about their dismissal during the Bush II administration. Passengers complained that they had to show their tickets three times -- once when boarding through the gates, once onboard to the conductor as part of a "ticket audit" and once when leaving the station through the gates while passengers on other Metra lines only had to show their tickets once. I can't begin to describe how much riders hated those gates, which dated back to the Illinois Central era.
 

railiner

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More like "had" -- they've been gone since 2003.
Metra hasn't used those for years. Passenger complaints brought about their dismissal during the Bush II administration. Passengers complained that they had to show their tickets three times -- once when boarding through the gates, once onboard to the conductor as part of a "ticket audit" and once when leaving the station through the gates while passengers on other Metra lines only had to show their tickets once. I can't begin to describe how much riders hated those gates, which dated back to the Illinois Central era.
Oops...thanks for that...I haven't been on it since way before then....:oops:
 

Nick Farr

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I'm not exactly sure how much it would cost to retrofit each station to have fare machines and validators, but I don't think it'd be terribly expensive.
The real push here is to encourage smartphones and the use of reloadable cards for those who don't have smartphones.

COVID is also accelerating the push towards a cashless society, for better or for worse.

Also: In many cases, fare collection can be more expensive that what is recovered in fares themselves.

What might be a better option is having fare collection equipment in the lead car of each train. If a customer cannot purchase a ticket using the Ventra app on a smartphone or doesn't have a pass, they can process their specific transaction on a fare collection device on board.

Barring that, a stripped down kiosk that takes cash and/or accepts a limited set of Ventra card based transactions would be the other alternative.
 

Seaboard92

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The real push here is to encourage smartphones and the use of reloadable cards for those who don't have smartphones.

COVID is also accelerating the push towards a cashless society, for better or for worse.

Also: In many cases, fare collection can be more expensive that what is recovered in fares themselves.

What might be a better option is having fare collection equipment in the lead car of each train. If a customer cannot purchase a ticket using the Ventra app on a smartphone or doesn't have a pass, they can process their specific transaction on a fare collection device on board.

Barring that, a stripped down kiosk that takes cash and/or accepts a limited set of Ventra card based transactions would be the other alternative.
Metra oftentimes doesn't have the first car of each train even open. Especially in the off peak times.
 

Nick Farr

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Metra oftentimes doesn't have the first car of each train even open. Especially in the off peak times.
The last car? The middle car?

The point is to have fare collection machines on the trains themselves, instead of at the stations. Or just let the conductors keep collecting cash.
 

jebr

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The last car? The middle car?

The point is to have fare collection machines on the trains themselves, instead of at the stations. Or just let the conductors keep collecting cash.
But why does it need to be on the train? Ideally, in a full proof-of-payment system, you'd want fares to be purchased before they board so a random check couldn't be easily circumvented by buying your ticket once you see them checking tickets. Depending on track conditions, it may not be terribly easy/convenient to travel between train cars, or try and work a machine while standing up on the train itself. You'd also need to make sure that every consist has one, and have it clearly signed where in the consist that car is, which reduces flexibility and increases workload in updating signage if it's not always in a fixed, consistent location.

The conductors could keep collecting cash, but that removes the option to buy a ticket if you have a credit card, but little/no cash, and don't have a smartphone (or don't want to download another app and sign up for an account simply to buy a ticket.) It also would free up conductors to be able to completely focus on the safe operation on the train instead of having to worry about fare collection as well. The ones that they've added to the arterial bus rapid transit stations here in MSP specifically for off-board payment of fares are pretty simple and, in the realm of TVMs, aren't terribly expensive. I did look up the contract and the cost is around $15,000 per machine. There's also already stations in the Metra system that have existing ticket machines which wouldn't need to be replaced (though if we want Ventra validation that'd have to be added as a separate reader,) so the difference in one-machine-per-consist (or, more likely, minimum two per consist in case one fails while on a trip) versus one-per-platform (with a failover on the other platform if it's not an island platform, or two-per-platform if redundancy on each platform is desired) is probably not huge.
 

Seaboard92

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The last car? The middle car?

The point is to have fare collection machines on the trains themselves, instead of at the stations. Or just let the conductors keep collecting cash.
It's Metra there is no guarantee on what car is open. And there entails the problem you would always have to have one of these cars open. But how will you insure it is in each trainset? How will you ensure the crew has that car open?
 

Nick Farr

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But why does it need to be on the train? Ideally, in a full proof-of-payment system, you'd want fares to be purchased before they board so a random check couldn't be easily circumvented by buying your ticket once you see them checking tickets.
There is no such thing as a fool-proof Proof of Payment system. You don't want one. The cost of maintaining one is far greater than what you would recover from it.

You have to consider how Metra already operates. People are already accustomed to purchasing tickets in advance, purchasing tickets on a smartphone or purchasing tickets on the train. Conductors come through the train almost exactly like Amtrak conductors and check off each seat with the destinations. Most of the trips on Metra are either from the terminus or to the terminus, so you don't have a great deal of on-off traffic like on BRT. Metra Conductors are primarily fare collectors and don't really have much to do with the operation of the train other than operating the doors. They don't operate on a PoP system--they collect all the tickets.

BRT is an entirely different thing from commuter rail. Most trips are not to or from the terminus. People might be getting off at the next stop. In these cases, you absolutely DO want fareboxes at each station, probably multiple fareboxes in places where there's a stadium, etc. BRT stations are also probably closer together or in urban enough areas where you don't have as much of a risk of tampering as you would in other stations. BRT also is probably much more likely to be casually used than METRA rail.

The cost of putting ticket kiosks in every station on a commuter rail network is prohibitive, relative to the density of the system and ability to collect. You have to in run new electrical lines, pour new concrete, sufficiently protect the machines from weather and theft, send people out to service them, collect the money, prevent credit card skimmers from getting in there, etc. Machines could collect hundreds of dollars in larger bills due to the higher fares relative to rapid transit, making them richer targets and thus in need of substantial hardening. Of course, you want kiosks at terminal stations to handle the overflow--but outside of heavy volume stations, there's not really a need relative to the cost.

You also WANT people to purchase tickets ahead of time. They don't need to download an app, mostly a web page will work fine.

It's much less cost prohibitive to put the fare collection on the trains themselves if you want to leave the cash/credit card option available to passengers. To note, they're trying to phase out and go entirely cashless.

That being said, it is also possible for the conductors themselves to have units that will accept credit cards for payment and give out change in the form of Ventra cards. Of course, there is a surcharge for this service that should cover the additional cost. (There is already a $5 cash on board surcharge for Metra fares.)

FInal point: You want to encourage interoperability with other forms of Rapid Transit in the same area. This is why the Ventra card/app exist. The idea is to eventually make all fare payment for METRA and CTA to be on a common system, much like it is in other parts of the world.
 
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Trogdor

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It's Metra there is no guarantee on what car is open. And there entails the problem you would always have to have one of these cars open. But how will you insure it is in each trainset? How will you ensure the crew has that car open?
I find this argument to be tenuous at best. Metra manages to ensure there is a cab car in each trainset. Metra manages to ensure there is an ADA-accessible car in each trainset (the oldest ones are not, from what I recall). It isn’t rocket surgery.

The cost of putting ticket kiosks in every station on a commuter rail network is prohibitive, relative to the density of the system and ability to collect. You have to in run new electrical lines, pour new concrete, sufficiently protect the machines from weather and theft, send people out to service them, collect the money, prevent credit card skimmers from getting in there, etc. Machines could collect hundreds of dollars in larger bills due to the higher fares relative to rapid transit, making them richer targets and thus in need of substantial hardening. Of course, you want kiosks at terminal stations to handle the overflow--but outside of heavy volume stations, there's not really a need relative to the cost.

This is the crux of the issue, to me. There are a lot of Metra stations that are little more than a platform. Fare machines need security and protection from the elements, as you note. And the vast service area Metra serves means that it would be a heck of a job in having someone monitor them. BRT stations are (generally) in heavy-trafficked areas with transit service going by every 10 minutes, plus lots of other street-level activity. Metra stations in some cases are off the beaten path, and the only people going there are passengers waiting for their every-other-hour train (or even less often, in some cases). Not saying its impossible, but it will be very expensive.

Metra does have some fare vending machines already, but the only ones I’ve seen are in the downtown Chicago terminals (and, as an aside, are among the worst, least intuitive fare vending machines I’ve ever had the misfortune to use), but the rest of the system has essentially nothing. There are maybe 3 or 4 places where Metra could piggyback off of CTA’s machines (honestly mildly surprised they don’t do so already), such as Davis in Evanston, Jefferson Park, Harlem/Oak Park, and maybe some other place I’m forgetting, but for probably 95% of their 242 stations, they’d need to put something in brand new.

I’ve actually thought about the fare machines on a train option as well. I guess the question becomes one of whether the cost to install and maintain however many they would need to ensure sufficient coverage (I don’t know how many total consists they operate on a daily basis) exceeds the cost of stationary installation & maintenance.
 

neroden

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Where are you finding this information....showing that UP is not "buying their way out" "like other railroads did"?
I would like to compare the stats to support your assertion....I don't see any mention in the original article...
Look up:
1 - the foundation of Amtrak
2 - the buyouts of service obligations on what are now the Metra Electric and Milwaukee District lines
3 - Most recently, the buyout of commuter service obligations which might have been retained by CSX on the MARC-operated B&O line
4 - the history of the Georgia Central
5 - the history of ICC regulations on discontinuance of service
6 - the history of the common carrier obligation as a concept
7 - the history of the South Shore Line
8 - the legal obligations to provide passenger service, even at a loss, which were part of the original railroad charters

Yeah, I have done a lot of background research here. The law is crystal clear. They have to operate passenger service unless the obligation has been transferred to someone else (usually a commuter authority or Amtrak) or the ICC (or its successor the STB) has granted them permission to discontinue service. Or Congress has (the Conrail Act did in a number of cases).

There aren't many lines left where the passenger service obligation is still held by a private for-profit company, since they've been bought out, transferred, or cancelled a few at a time. In most of the contracts (yes, I've read some of them) the transfer of service obligations from the private railroad to the public agency is considered a payment from the railroad to the agency which offsets the cost of the agency acquiring the tracks.

But there were a few left which never transferred those obligations. Until recently, the MARC B&O route was one of them, along with the BNSF and UP routes on Metra which still are. But just because the UP route is now an oddity doesn't mean that they just get to break the law and ignore their legal obligations.
 

railiner

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Look up:
1 - the foundation of Amtrak
2 - the buyouts of service obligations on what are now the Metra Electric and Milwaukee District lines
3 - Most recently, the buyout of commuter service obligations which might have been retained by CSX on the MARC-operated B&O line
4 - the history of the Georgia Central
5 - the history of ICC regulations on discontinuance of service
6 - the history of the common carrier obligation as a concept
7 - the history of the South Shore Line
8 - the legal obligations to provide passenger service, even at a loss, which were part of the original railroad charters

Yeah, I have done a lot of background research here. The law is crystal clear. They have to operate passenger service unless the obligation has been transferred to someone else (usually a commuter authority or Amtrak) or the ICC (or its successor the STB) has granted them permission to discontinue service. Or Congress has (the Conrail Act did in a number of cases).

There aren't many lines left where the passenger service obligation is still held by a private for-profit company, since they've been bought out, transferred, or cancelled a few at a time. In most of the contracts (yes, I've read some of them) the transfer of service obligations from the private railroad to the public agency is considered a payment from the railroad to the agency which offsets the cost of the agency acquiring the tracks.

But there were a few left which never transferred those obligations. Until recently, the MARC B&O route was one of them, along with the BNSF and UP routes on Metra which still are. But just because the UP route is now an oddity doesn't mean that they just get to break the law and ignore their legal obligations.
Since you have done so much research into this area, can you briefly point more specifically, at how much it would cost UP to "buy out" their obligation?
And compare it to some other Metra operated lines that were previously "bought out"? Say for example, the Norfolk Southern...
 

neroden

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I don't think I could pin down a dollar value, since it's a negotiation matter. (It is, in a real sense, related to the cost of operating that particular route vs. the payments for operating it -- how expensive the obligation actually is, in other words. But how much they pay to buy their way out of the obligation also related to how much money they *had available* to buy their way out, so deeply bankrupt companies paid a lot less than relatively solvent companies.)

And... when this started, UP was in negotiations with Metra over exactly that buyout / transfer of obligations! Nobody's published what either side's starting price offers were.

It appears that UP decided to stop negotiating in good faith and decided to start taking frivolous legal positions instead. I really have a lot of disrespect for that.
 

Thunder

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UP dropped this in Metra’s lap and was like “ it’s your baby now, we are done”.

they leave their employees in the lurch, as well as Metra and the commuters served by their lines.

i can see a few old heads stay on with Metra if they can get Prior Rights agreements through and be paid at the same rate they are now. Now that is doable as there is framework of prior rights for employees of railroads taken over by Metra. However all the other PR folks have retired now I believe. So this might be a point of contention for legal types. But if they don’t give them those rights? I don’t see anyone coming over if UP dumps it. Now Metra would have to staff those trains and make sure all members are qualified. they couldn’t pull that off without having to cut the service until they had the manpower to cover.

Going to be fun to watch.
 

west point

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This poster's take is UP makes a small profit. However the operating ratio (OR) for METRA service might be in the range of 95%. Get rid of that OR and UP can get its whole OR down another maybe 2 points. That is why I hate the wall street idea that OR is the end all. It is not.
 

John Bredin

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Why can' the CHICAGO station made so everyone getting on or off the commuter trains pass thru fare gates? Give the conductors a different punch for each day of the week. That way rider's tickets would note if they had not been punched. In the long run put in electronic ticket scanners that riders will have to swipe before getting on or off outlying stations. VRE altready does this.
Oddly enough, Metra ended up implementing a variation on your suggestion: ticket verification booths on the platforms at Ogilvie, which "will cover 90% of riders on the Metra UP lines" according to the Tribune article. There's about a dozen platforms at Ogilvie ,as I recall, so I imagine this involves 12+/- posts to be staffed from early in the morning to late at night seven days a week to do the work that UP conductors & trainmen should be doing and are still being paid to do.

:rolleyes: for UP's excuse, repeated in the article, that its conductors & trainmen are not patrolling the trains out of safety concerns and an abundance of caution. They're still opening and closing the doors on UP trains, standing in the vestibule with every passenger passing within a few feet of them as they board and alight. And Metra's own conductors and trainmen are patrolling trains and collecting fares in addition to that.

A particular instance of chutzpah from the Tribune article is that, while UP is manning the booths for now, "Union Pacific has asked Metra to have police officers on the trains and at the ticket verification booths." However, (1) UP's own police have always patrolled Ogilvie Station and UP-operated trains, (2) Metra's police force is small and somewhat stretched, and (3) as with the conductors, there's no fathomable physical or medical difference between UP and Metra employees, all being human the last time I checked.
 
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