Because Metra, you suck.

I live a 12 minute walk, 7 minute bus trip (door-to-door), 5 minute bike ride, and 4 minute drive from my local Northwest Side Metra stop. And that access means nothing to me. Because Metra, you suck.

Metra has proven itself continuously useless for most Chicagoans. This is not news. It is very, very old news. Unless you’re a suburban commuter working a standard 9-5 Mondays through Fridays Metra plays little to no role in most of our lives, nor can it play one in most cases anyhow.

And the very group of people responsible for this are the people running Metra. As one friend put it they’re basically a bunch of overgrown boys who like playing with the largest toy train set in the world. The solutions to Metra’s woes, the methods of making the system serve the entire region better, and by virtue of that to gain greater ridership are well-known and widely discussed. The Metra board doesn’t seem to care all that much though and just ignores any solid suggestion.

Because Metra, you suck.

Metro North runs every 20-30 minutes to and from Manhattan, Go Transit in Toronto is working towards similar frequencies. In Vienna, commuter trains cut through the city center for transfer-free crosstown trips, and Caltrain is electrifying with the hopes making trains faster and increase frequency to 6 times an hour (or, every 10 minutes, about as frequent as some L lines) between San Francisco and San Jose.

Metra is expanding doing routine maintenance sold as capital projects and redesigning the interiors of its cars.

Trains won’t run faster or more frequently. Trains won’t be any more accessible (if you’ve never ridden Metra, you can’t role a wheelchair onto trains). New lines won’t be added. It’ll be more of the same.

There is no defined plan for the future.

Metra doesn’t use Ventra, the fare card that’s suppose to integrate fare payment on CTA trains and buses and Pace buses. To use Ventra you need the app. To use the app you need a smart phone. Metra has resisted for quite some time. This is “progress”.

Again, because Metra, you suck.

But it doesn’t matter all that much, Metra’s trains don’t get you to where you’re going if you’re in the city much faster than the bus or L. And it certainly doesn’t get you there any cheaper.

Fare zones don’t match the CTA. A trip from Evanston to the Loop on the L will cost you $2.25 and an hour of your time or 48 minutes at rush hour. To get to the same place in 43 minutes you can take Metra. That’ll cost you $5.00 though. The distance is the same.

Because Metra, you suck.

A $2 billion investment will extend the Red Line L from 95th Street to 130th Street on the South Side. The Metra Electric already goes there. But it runs only once an hour or so. And the cost: $5.00 or $5.25 depending on the branch. For less than $200 million Metra could make a rapid transit service on the Metra Electric and save everybody another $1.8 billion by making the Red Line extension redundant. 

But Metra has to wait and see. It’ll think about it. It might not be a practical move. There might not be demand, because the Metra Electric doesn’t pass anything important. McCormack Place and the Museum Campus, Soldier Field and the University of Chicago, the Obama Library and Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago State University and Pullman. These are places with no value.

Let’s not even discuss Crossrail Chicago or the fact that only Metra line to stop at O’Hare (the North Central Service) only runs 10 trains a day per direction, rush hour only, and none on the weekend.

Because Metra, you suck.

Maybe some day the massive web that is Chicago’s commuter rail system will be rethought in a manner that is both practical and useful.

But I won’t hold my breath. I’ll surely suffocate by then.

Because Metra, you suck.