Metra waiting for spring to expand schedules as COVID-19 discourages riders
Metra will postpone adding more service until spring after the latest COVID-19 surge deflated ridership in January, officials said this week.
"Ridership recently has taken a severe drop over the last four to five weeks," Executive Director Jim Derwinski explained Wednesday at a board meeting. "We are closer to 15% of pre-COVID-19 numbers on a daily basis. Most of this has to do with the holiday season and the latest COVID-19 variant."
The highly infectious COVID-19 variant, omicron, caused record numbers of cases and hospitalizations this month.
"Currently we are targeting enhanced schedule updates on various lines in March," Derwinski said. "They were originally targeted for January but obviously the COVID surge pushed us back in those plans.
"Those line adjustments will be driven by ridership counts, ridership feedback, and the ongoing conversation with the business community."
Metra reduced trips when COVID-19 hit in March 2020 and has gradually reintroduced trains but not to pre-pandemic levels.
In 2019, Metra operated about 74 million trips. January and February 2020 saw passenger levels grow, but that trend was decimated in March and the total for the year was 18.6 million, the lowest in the railroad's history, the agency reported.
Metra planners estimated that 2021 resulted in only 13.9 million trips, according to preliminary numbers.
However, leaving out passenger data from January through March of both years, ridership was much stronger on Metra in 2021, nearly triple 2020 tallies.