Wilmette, News

Metra, Pace to offer free rides this weekend

(Editor’s Note: This story was reported by Igor Studenkov and originally published in the Evanston Roundtable, a neighboring independent newsroom. It was shared with The Record as part of an ongoing collaborative effort.)

Metra and Pace are celebrating their 40th anniversaries this month by, among other things, offering free rides this weekend.

For North Shore residents, this means free rides on the Union Pacific North Line and the Pace buses. The Metra line serves the North Shore suburbs and several Chicago neighborhoods, with some weekend trains going as far north as Kenosha, Wisconsin. The Pace buses go as far north as Highland Park and as far west as Northwest Transportation Center near Schaumburg’s Woodfield Mall.

For riders traveling to O’Hare Airport, the offer means a free ride on Pulse Dempster Line/Route 250. The Davis L and Metra station is a major local transit hub; most Pace and CTA bus routes serving Evanston stop either in front of the L station or at the nearby stretches of Davis and Church streets.

Metra was founded in June. While Pace wasn’t founded until July, its spokesperson, Maggie Daly Skogsbakken told the RoundTable that they decided to have the free fare weekend early to coordinate with Metra. Both agencies said they hoped that residents who never rode public transit before will use the weekend as an opportunity to try their services out.

Metra has planned a week of other activities in the lead up to the anniversary. On Tuesday, June 4, it handed out “a gift, including coupons from local businesses” to riders at Ogilvie Transportation Center and other transit. On Wednesday, it will ask riders to share travel photos on social media, and on Friday, it will ask riders to share their favorite travel destinations. It also plans to launch a museum rail car later this summer, but no further details have been released so far.

Daly Skogsbakken said that Pace is planning its own activities, which will be announced later this summer.

While both Metra and Pace have struggled to recover their pre-pandemic ridership, their weekend ridership has been recovering faster than weekday ridership. According the May 2024 ridership report, the most recent ridership report available, the Saturday ridership system-wide is at 92% of pre-pandemic ridership and Sunday ridership is at 71% of the pre-pandemic level. By comparison, weekday ridership is at 57% of pre-pandemic numbers.

Union Pacific North Line specifically is doing better than most of the lines. Its Saturday ridership is actually higher than pre-pandemic ridership, the Sunday ridership is at 78% of pre-pandemic numbers and weekday ridership is at 57%.

Pace indicated that its weekend fixed route boardings in March 2024 increased 33% from March 2023 figures and increased 31% in April 2024 from April 2023 figures. 

Metra and Pace were created as part of the reform of the Regional Transportation Authority, which was originally funded to subsidize rail and bus transit services throughout Chicago area.

Commuter Division of the Regional Transportation Authority Board of Directors had its first meeting on June 8, 1984. Suburban Bus Division of the Regional Transportation Authority was founded in July 1, 1984. A year later, the two agencies adopted “Metra” (a portmanteau of Metropolitan Rail) and “Pace” names we know today for marketing purposes.

“Whether you have been riding Metra for 40 years or took your first ride today, we want to thank you,” Metra Executive Director Jim Derwinski said. “And as we look to the past and celebrate four decades of serving the Chicago area’s transportation needs, we are also looking to the future and making plans to continue that service for many more decades.”

“Forty years is a remarkable milestone for any organization. We’ve provided access to transportation through rain, snow, heat waves, and a pandemic,” said Melinda Metzger, executive director of Pace. “We are excited to give back to the communities that have supported us through the years by offering a weekend of free rides. It’s our way of saying thank you and inviting everyone to celebrate with us.” 

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