An HNTB study of fare inequities in Chicago’s South Side and southern Cook County has led to the implementation of a popular pilot program that has slashed transportation costs for the region’s most underserved commuters.

HNTB was retained by Cook County, which includes the City of Chicago and its surrounding suburbs, to conduct the South Cook Mobility Study in 2018. As part of the year-long study, HNTB examined several options for making mass transit services more equitable for residents, including new transit route extensions, service increases, and fare policy changes. Following the completion of the study, Cook County partnered with Metra to implement a 50-percent fare reduction on two commuter rail lines that serve South Cook County. In January 2021, the concept was implemented by Metra as a three-year pilot program and officials said they already are seeing positive results.

According to transportation officials, reducing fares on the Metra Electric and Rock Island lines, which serve the city’s South Side and its southern and southwestern suburbs, has led to increased ridership on both lines. With the first year of the three-year pilot program in South Cook County completed, ridership on the Rock Island and Electric lines have increased, on average, 32 percent faster than other Metra lines. This is particularly notable given commuter rail lines throughout the country – including Metra – experienced unprecedented declines in both ridership and revenue as a result of the pandemic.

With new fare reductions, the program benefits the commuters who need it most. South Cook County, according to the county’s department of transportation, is one of the most transit-dependent and underserved portions of the county. Transportation costs compared to incomes in the 780,000 households within the study showed to be very high, with commuters paying from 30 percent to as much as 50 percent of their incomes on transportation to get to work, school or medical care. The fare reduction has greatly reduced the cost of riding transit in the historically disadvantaged area.

Location: Chicago, IL

Client: Cook County