Diverging Approach: The Monthly Pass

Daniel Biss, a sitting Illinois state senator and a Democratic candidate for governor, duffed a transit question in a televised debate this week. A moderator asked Biss how much he believed a monthly CTA Pass costs. Biss’s response:

“A monthly CTA pass. Now, let’s see. My Metra pass now comes pretty close to $50 a month. So A monthly CTA pass I would guess is probably around $35.”

A CTA 28-Day Pass costs $105, more than three times Biss’s guess. Following the debate, Biss’s campaign tried to explain the discrepancy, but duffed that too:

Biss’ campaign later said the Evanston senator “mixed up” the weekly and monthly pass prices, and was referring to the weekly Metra pass at $55, and the weekly CTA pass at $35.

Metra does not offer “weekly” passes. Metra does offer a 10-Ride Ticket, but if a rider is using all ten rides in a single week, a Monthly Pass is a more cost-effective alternative.

However, it does bring up a valid question for many Metra commuters: when should I buy a monthly pass, and when should I just use 10-Rides?

As part of the most recent (February 2018) fare hikes, Metra adjusted their ticket structure slightly. (Metra is currently studying a more dramatic shift to their overall fare structure.) All Metra fares are based on one-way ticket prices between five-mile-wide fare zones throughout the region, starting downtown at Zone A and radiating out to Zone M in Harvard. From the one-way ticket price, 10-Ride tickets are priced at 9.5 times the cost of a one-way (up from 9x) and monthly tickets are priced at 29 times the cost of a one-way (up from 28.5x).

Since there is a discount for 10-Rides and 10-Rides are good for a full year (except when purchased in January, when many riders try stockpiling to beat the annual February fare increase), a 10-Ride will always be the most affordable per-ride ticket for infrequent riders. However, for more frequent riders, the “sweet spot” is your 30th ride: if a rider takes 30 or more Metra rides in a calendar month, a Monthly Pass will be the better per-ride value. In other words, if you’re commuting downtown at least 15 days in a month, buy a Monthly Pass. This is true regardless of the fare zone.

Of course, since Metra sells Monthly Tickets based on calendar months, even if your work schedule never changes, you may want to change your ticket. A typical month includes 20-22 workdays, but thanks to holidays, vacations, etc. a 18- or 19-day workday month is not unusual. Add in flexible work assignments and that 15-day target can easily become variable between months.

Granted, if it’s that close, you’d probably only save a few bucks here or there, but every dollar counts.

Next up: DA will offer up an interesting tweak to the fare structure that’s probably revenue-neutral but more equitable for lower-income riders.

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