Letter from state Senator Barack Obama on Metra service, November 2003

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The HPKCC Transit Task Force and other South Side and South Suburban groups have been in discussion with our legislators about improvements to Metra Electric, from more service and fare linkup to stations, amenities, and discrimination. Here is the response of a leading state senator. The Task Force appreciates the interest and support of other legislators and our aldermen.

The demanded removal of turnstyles is done. The turnstyles were a source of multiple "ticket-checking" many considered harassment and time-consuming and found only on the Electric District (south side). The other main demand is toilets on trains--again found everywhere but on the South Side lines. New trains, starting to come in 2005, will have toilets. Some suburban stations have temporary toilets now and janitors were told to really do some cleaning. See April Southtown article in Metra SECRET page.

Obama sets legislative sights on Metra neglect

Hyde Park Herald, November 5, 2003

Hyde Park residents using Metra's Electric Line have suffered for years with dilapidated stations, no bathrooms on the trains and turnstiles and gates that force you to have your ticket punched six times on a round-trip ride.

However, I am leading a group of South Side and South Suburban elected officials that are filing state legislation this week to require Metra to install bathrooms and eliminate payment gates on its South Suburban Electric Line by Jan. 1, 2005.

It is discrimination that the Electric Line--one of 11 Metra Lines and the only predominantly African American one--is apparently the only line without bathrooms on the trains and the only one with gates that require passengers to pay before getting on trains. At all other Metra stations, passengers do not need to pass through pay gates.

The South Suburban Electric Line is also apparently the only Metra line that won't accept tickets purchased at other District stations, forcing many riders to either wait for a ticket agent to unlock the turnstile or else jump it. The Electric Line is the only line with security cameras and too few and dilapidated benches.

The longest commute ride on the Electric Line is approximately one hour and seventeen minutes. The longest commute on the Southwest line--which has bathrooms---is approximately one hour and eight minutes. A Metra Web site press release stated that, "approximately 13,000 Metra passengers originate in Riverdale and communities south of it." These predominately African American riders and commuters have no bathroom service on their 45-minute plus trip.

When commuters complained about the STAR Line connecting a mostly affluent territory between O'Hare International Airport, the western suburbs and Joliet, Jeff Ladd, CEO of Metra, derisively said Metra was "not a social service welfare agency" concerned with unemployment issues and access to jobs.

My office and those of South Suburban legislators have been flooded with calls from upset commuters who had called Metra to complain about the service. One woman was told that the reason there are no bathrooms is because Metra bought the Electric Line from the Illinois Central and that the problem will be fixed eventually. The other person who complained received no call back.

Similar complaints were heard recently at a Metra town meeting in Homewood, where residents complained about years of Metra neglect. Metra riders will get one more chance to voice their concerns to Metra at a town meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 11 at 7:00 pm at the Village of Matteson's Village Board Room, 4900 Village Commons, Matteson. If you cannot attend that meeting, please call my office at 773-363-1996 about specific Metra concerns. For example, I know the renovation of the Hyde Park stations has been a mess with Metra years behind schedule. While Metra blames a bankrupt contractor, that is not a reasonable excuse for riders who must suffer through potentially dangerous stations.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, transportation facilities of a public entity must be accessible and usable or it is considered legal discrimination. Not surprisingly, the Metra Electric Line is also the only line with gates that have to be entered before riding the train.

Metra is the direct service provider and is fully responsible for assuring satisfactory conditions for its customers. All New Jersey to New York commuter trains, for example, have bathrooms on them. Chicago commuter trains should be held to similar standards.

Since the General Assembly has authority over parts of Metra's budget, we are going to hold their feet to the fire.