As Metra selected former Chicago Alderman Martin Olberman as its new chairman this week, riders throughout the region are sounding off about poor service this winter. A hearing in Springfield gave lawmakers a chance to grill Metra’s CEO while a meeting in Naperville on Feb. 10 gave riders a chance to vent. But for those in the southern parts of the Chicago area, they have lashed out in the only venue they’ve had: the media.
“It’s been pretty ridiculous,” said Mary Jackson-Jenkins from suburban Dolton. “The Harvey station has had a slippery platform as it seems like they have run out of salt or something. I won’t even get started on all of the delays because it seems as though that has been happening everywhere. But Metra increased their rates recently and the service seems to be worse. I’ve been riding Metra for over 10 years, but they have to get better or I may have to just drive to work,” said Jackson-Jenkins who works in the James Thompson Center downtown. State Rep. Al Riley, D-38, head of the House’s Mass Transportation Committee, spoke for many of his constituents earlier this week when he told Metra’s new CEO Don Orseno that his constituents were “deeply dissatisfied” with the transportation agency.
Riley, who lives in Hazel Crest, told Orseno that the excuses Metra was making about the weather causing logistical problems “is not going to fly with the public.” He said people have been waiting in bitter cold temperatures on uncovered platforms while Metra trains have been delayed for hours.
Charese Scott, a nurse from Harvey, said Metra’s delays this winter have caused her to miss picking up her daughter from day care on four occasions. She said she has been fined by the daycare facility three of those times before she had her brother pick up her daughter this last time.
“I’ve paid $150 in fines this winter, and I’m not happy about this,” Scott said. “I’ve never been late in the three years she was at the daycare center, now they are wondering what is going on. I get off at 3:30 and have to be there by 6 p.m. But with all of the train delays, I’ve been up to an hour late twice this winter. I think Metra should offer us refunds.” Metra officials told the Crusader that only 30 percent of their trains were on time during two recent polar vortex systems that hit the Chicago area. A spokesperson for the agency said the cold weather froze train switches and “did a number on our rail cars.” Orseno said aging rail equipment and poor communication with customers have made things worse, and that is unacceptable. He said surveys have been emailed to many riders asking riders how Metra can improve communication.
Riders say Metra’s reputation is taking a big hit. Robert Thompson from the Avalon Park community said he used to be able to set his watch by Metra and he knew it would be on time. He said while his confidence has taken a hit, he sees the recent problems as a blip on the radar and thinks politicians are making an issue out of something to make themselves look better.
“This winter has been rough on all of us,” said Thompson, who works as a bank manager in the Loop. “It’s been 30 years since we had a winter this bad, so I think we all need to give Metra a break. I think their consistency over time has shown they know what they are doing. I’ve been taking Metra for over 40 years, and I’m not about to change to another form of transportation. I’ve never seen any of these politicians who are complaining riding on a Metra train with me.” In the meantime, Metra is progressing forward with a plan to extend the South Shore Line well into Northwest Indiana. The pro- posed eight-mile extension of the line would mean residents in Dyer, Schererville, Merrillville, and Mun-ster could have an easier commute. The cost would be $571 million. An environmental study could begin as early as March.