Chicago's Metra commuter trains provide a vital service to the public and are an asset to the entire area. However, their ability to handle high capacities leaves something to be desired.
Think about that.
When you take the CTA train or bus home after a Cubs game or after Lollapalooza, do they let you ride for free? No.
When you drive to the Taste of Chicago, and the Millennium Park garages are packed, do they just open the gates and let everyone park for free? No.
This is, in essence, what Metra is doing... whenever their trains are too full for the conductors to walk the aisle and collect fares.
Their system does not scale. It cannot handle high capacity. It's not the fault of the conductors, it's the system. The fare collection system must be updated, able to handle all capacities, especially at the high end. In a time when companies and families are tightening their belts and trying to run more efficiently, it is baffling why Metra would be allowed to continue to forego collecting fares during the very times when their revenue and profits would be highest. Back of the envelope calculations suggest that they are forgoing hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions... every year.
Metra needs to find a way to charge all of their customers, all of the time, ESPECIALLY during the times when the trains are the most packed. Private companies live and die by their highest volume days. However, by virtue of being a public entity, Metra doesn't seem to have to follow the same rules. But as a taxpayer, and a regular, avid Metra rider, I believe that this is unfair to the taxpayers of Illinois and unfair to other Metra riders who have to pay their fares.
Full disclosure: I love public transportation. I love trains. I love transit. I've been to Japan and South Korea. They charge all of their customers, all the time (unless the train is extremely, horribly late, in which case you can apply for a refund).