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Fare warning: It's going to cost more to commute, park in Chicago

A passenger looks for sewhile walking through aisle Metrtrain.  | Sun-Times Medifile

A passenger looks for a seat while walking through the aisle on a Metra train. | Sun-Times Media file

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Updated: January 29, 2013 6:17AM



For Fox Valley folks heading to Chicago in the new year, it’s going to cost more to get there, more to stay there — and more even to drive through.

Beginning Jan. 1, drivers will be shelling out more for parking meters in downtown Chicago than any other city in North America.

The cost to park at a metered spot in the Loop will rise to $6.50 an hour from the current $5.75. That’s more than double what people paid to park at meters in the Loop in 2008.

In the Central Business District, rates will go up 50 cents from $3.50 to $4. And in most neighborhoods, rates will rise 25 cents an hour.

The increase is part of the city of Chicago’s $1.15 billion deal with Chicago Parking Meters LLC. Beginning in 2014, meter increases citywide will be tied to the rate of inflation.

Also on Jan. 1, the privately run Chicago Skyway — which ferries motorists along the lake through Chicago into Indiana — will hike its toll for cars by nearly 15 percent: from $3.50 to $4.

Two weeks later, the Chicago Transit Authority will increase rates on passes used by more than half its bus and rail riders. Seniors, some travelers from O’Hare International Airport, and Soldier Field Express bus riders also will see fare jumps.

And on Feb. 1, Metra is increasing the price of its 10-ride ticket — for the second year in a row.

No Metra break

That bump by Metra comes exactly a year after the biggest fare hike in the commuter rail agency’s history. Riders on average had to shelve out 25 percent more to ride trains beginning Feb. 1 this year.

As of Feb. 1, 2013, suburbanites hopping on Metra trains into the city will no longer be able to purchase 10 rides for the price of nine. This comes only a year after Metra stopped offering 10 rides for the price of eight.

The 2012 Metra fare increase was “huge” so “to do this on top of that is not good,” said Beverly Lietzau, who takes the Metra.

However, Metra officials say the fare hikes will generate $8.3 million and help the agency maintain its equipment.

CTA officials contend commuters will see improvements for their extra fare dollars on Chicago buses. That includes station upgrades, the biggest track-renewal project in nearly two decades — on the Red Line — and a modernized fare payment system.

CTA and Metra officials also argue that the hikes put the agencies on par with peers nationally.

Nation’s highest toll

As for the 8-mile Chicago Skyway connection with Indiana, tolls are set by the Skyway Concessions Company that inked a 99-year lease with the city in 2005 in exchange for paying the city $1.83 billion upfront.

The Skyway toll will increase from $3.50 to $4.

As of January 2011 — after Skyway rates jumped from $3 to $3.50 — the Skyway had the highest toll per mile of any interstate toll system tracked by the Federal Highway Administration.

The FHA listed the Skyway rate at that time as 46 cents a mile for the average passenger vehicle. The Jan. 1, 2013, toll jump to $4, based on FHA data, will put the cost per mile at close to 52 cents.

Rider tipping point

Steve Schlickman, executive director of the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said good transit and tollway operators try to calculate the tipping point at which a fare increase will turn off too many users.

“They understand where their price points are,” Schlickman said. “The approaches they are taking are ones that minimize ridership loss and maximize revenue.”

In addition, Schlickman said, although price increases may infuriate some riders, CTA Chicago Cards and other automated payment methods make fare increases “less visible” to users.

“That’s going to affect the psychology of the rider, to the benefit of the transit authority, so it will no longer cause as big a decrease in ridership as it would have in the past,” Schlickman said.



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