Metra commuters want automated ticket machines

September 28, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Metra bills itself as "the way to really fly." But a fast commute can grind to a halt for those who need to buy tickets.

Wednesday at the height of the morning rush, more than 50 people cooled their heels in Metra's ticket line at Union Station, where only a few agents were on duty.

"I travel a lot," commuter Eric Doyle said. "I print boarding passes, use my phone to scan right in, so to be here standing in line when my train leaves in 15 minutes and not know if I can make it through this line, I might just pay the $3 inconvenience charge on the train."

Steps away, Amtrak and CTA operate automated ticket machines. Metra, however, doesn't offer that quick convenience at four of its five downtown stations. Only on the Metra Electric line is there an automated option.

Metra, Pace and the CTA are committed to coming up with a universal fare card, but not until 2015. So that means it could be three more years before Metra fully implements new features like mobile boarding passes or print your own at home.

"The problem is we don't want to implement too much until we know what CTA is doing because we want to be compatible with them," Metra spokesperson Judy Pardonnet said.

Now, Metra said it has "found" a few extra automated ticket machines like the ones used on the electric line in storage. The railroad plans to install one at each downtown station by the end of the year.

Not soon enough for commuter Gwenn Bell, who missed a train Wednesday waiting in line for a ticket.

" So I ran to see if I could buy a Metra ticket at the Amtrak counter and they said no," she said. The frustration felt by riders comes at a time when Metra is preparing to ask riders for a 30-percent fare increase. The board is expected to vote on that this fall. It could take effect early next year.

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