Metra: Union Pacific conductor policy leads to lost revenue

Story from the Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) — Metra says Union Pacific’s refusal to send conductors into train cars is costing the Chicago-area commuter rail carrier $1 million each month in lost ticket revenue.

Union Pacific, which operates the UP North, Northwest and West lines for Metra, is not allowing conductors into the aisles to punch tickets, citing coronavirus safety concerns, the Chicago Tribune reported. That is giving passengers on those lines a free ride, Metra said.

“Because UP conductors are neither selling tickets nor validating fares, most riders on their trains have been riding for free,” Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said Tuesday.

Metra has suffered financially during the coronavirus pandemic, operating at about 10% of its normal ridership while people work from home and attend school remotely. The transit agency projects $682 million in lost revenue through the end of 2021.

Shortly after the onset of the pandemic in March, Metra stopped validating or selling tickets on any of its 11 lines across six counties. In early June, Metra resumed in-person ticketing, but Union Pacific has chosen not to.

“The safety of Chicago commuters and employees is paramount to Union Pacific,” said Raquel Espinoza, a Union Pacific spokeswoman. She noted guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We are following CDC guidelines as we decide when it is safe to place employees back in public-facing positions.”

Metra and Union Pacific have been in negotiations since last fall to either extend their service agreement or create a new one. One option on the table would be for Metra to take over operations of the commuter trains using its own employees, Gillis said.

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