Cook County Proposal to Expand Train Service Opposed by Chicago Mayor

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says the proposed plan, backed by County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, would pull riders off the city’s subway system. But the plan has the financial backing of the county.
by Juan Perez Jr., Chicago Tribune | September 20, 2019 AT 2:58 AM

(TNS) - A Cook County-backed proposal to expand passenger train service between downtown, the Far South Side and south suburbs now has a powerful opponent: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle cemented a plan to lower fares and increase service on both the Metra Electric and Rock Island train lines at the center of a racial equity agenda presented to the City Club of Chicago earlier this week — saying the effort would help ensure South Side and south suburban residents have better access to transit.

“This is what equity investments in transportation look like," Preckwinkle said of what she described as a three-year pilot plan that would advance with financial support from the county government.

Lightfoot’s not convinced. The fare reduction plan would have “a dramatic effect” on the Chicago Transit Authority, the mayor told reporters Wednesday.

“I’m not in favor of it based upon the analysis that we’ve done," Lightfoot said. "I’ve spent some time talking with (CTA President) Dorval Carter about it, and it looks like it is essentially a transfer of CTA passengers to the Metra line.

“Obviously there’s an area of the South Side where we need to have better transportation services," Lightfoot said. "That Metra line is underserved, and I’m absolutely willing to work with Metra and the county, but this particular proposal I think causes problems for the CTA and I’m not going to support something that would have the effect of diminishing ridership at the CTA.”

Linda Thisted, co-chair of the Coalition for a Modern Metra Electric, expressed disappointment at Lightfoot’s position.

“I just don’t understand why the mayor would be against it,” said Thisted, whose coalition represents community and business groups that support the plan. She said the coalition had been trying to get a meeting with Lightfoot.

“We know that the local community supports it,” Thisted said. “We’ve been underserved on the South Side. This has got to be about the people, not the agencies. The agencies should not be competing for riders. What we need is an integrated public transit system.”

Thisted noted that under the proposal, the county would provide a subsidy to offset any revenue losses to Metra and the CTA.

Metra has talked with Cook County, CTA and Pace about the plan, which still needs critical final details such as the size of a county subsidy. No agreements have been signed yet, Preckwinkle said this week.

The county, she said, would continue to advance its discussions with area transit agencies and help finance the plan.

"This is a pilot plan that seeks to address equity, mobility, inclusion and access to employment and there remains a high demand for transit service in South Cook County,” Preckwinkle said in a statement later Wednesday.

"Additionally, I welcome continued discussions with CTA and applaud any plan that makes transit options, especially in traditionally underserved communities, more affordable, accessible and equitable,” Preckwinkle said.

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