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Metra-CTA package deal during Red Line construction could save money, hassle

A traarrives Sox-35th CTA Red Line statiChicago Ill. Friday May 10 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

A train arrives at the Sox-35th CTA Red Line station in Chicago, Ill., on Friday, May 10, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 14, 2013 6:17AM

CTA Red Line South riders, sharpen your pencils — especially if your commute takes you near a Metra station.

CTA and Metra are offering a special combination package during the upcoming Red Line reconstruction, but riders will have to weigh dollars and cents — as well as pros and cons — before deciding which commute is best.

For displaced riders at the southernmost end of the Red Line, the package features a 10-ride ticket on the Metra Electric or Rock Island line combined with a five-day CTA pass. The bundle was created just for the five-month Red Line shutdown that starts May 19.

Is it a deal?

It’s complicated.

Metra officials concede that the price of the special 10-ride ticket in Zones B, C and D is unchanged, ranging from $30 to $74, depending on a station’s distance from downtown. What’s new is that CTA riders can buy that Metra ticket at certain CTA retail outlets, such as Walgreens and Jewel, where they usually buy their CTA fares.

The Metra portion of the package is “simply a convenience’’ to make it easier for Red Line riders to purchase if they have to take Metra trains, Metra officials say.

Once they board, former CTA riders might like Metra’s more heavily upholstered seats and the one or two “quiet cars’’ per train for “people who want peace and quiet,’’ Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said.

“Maybe it will get them to where they want to go faster. Maybe they will like the atmosphere. . . . We think there will be a lot of people trying different alternatives to see which ones work best for them,’’ Gillis said. “We want to make sure they have a good experience on our trains, and hopefully they will stay with us after construction ends.’’

Meanwhile, the CTA portion of the package is discounted. The five-day CTA pass is only $1.50 to $2 more than the current three-day CTA pass when riders bundle it with a Metra B or C zone 10-ride ticket. Plus, CTA rides during those five days are unlimited.

That brings the total package for a typical workweek to $52 in Zone B and $64 in Zone C. Farther south, in Zone D, the package will cost $74, but it also include rides on suburban Pace buses.

Jeffrey Johnson, 20, assumed he would have to fold Metra into his commute to the Harold Washington College library during the shutdown of the Red Line, from Cermak to 95th. He figured that taking a Metra train and a CTA elevated train — a one-transfer commute — would be faster than a two-transfer commute of specially discounted CTA buses and L rides.

Then Johnson, who lives near 111th and Western, did the math.

He was surprised to learn that a C-zone Metra-CTA package would cost $64 a week for five days of service.

But he works at the library only four days a week. So, going all-CTA — with a specially discounted bus ride, a free shuttle and a free L ride — would cost only $14 for four days of commuting.

That’s even less than the $20 he normally spends when his Red Line stop is open.

“For the summer, right now, I’ll stick with the CTA and their free shuttles,’’ Johnson said. “It’s the money.”

But Johnson wonders about the speed of the free CTA shuttle that would take him from his shuttered 95th Street train station to the Garfield Green Line station. During reconstruction, the CTA is offering free shuttles from the four southernmost Red Line stops to the Green Line Garfield station, where all L rides will be free, too.

“I’ll have to see how the shuttle buses work out,’’ Johnson said. “It could work out the best for most people, or it could be a mess. I’ll have to try it out.’’

As another convenience during Red line work, Metra will change some “flag stops,’’ where trains stop if passengers are visible, to regular stops at five Metra Electric Stations: 63rd Street; 75th Street (Grand Crossing); 79th Street (Chatham); 87th Street (Woodruff), and 95th Street (Chicago State University).

Regular stops at those stations will occur on the inbound No. 100 and No. 102 during the weekday morning rush, and on the outbound No. 227 and 241 during the weekday evening rush.

Several Saturday trains also will make regular stops at those five stations.

Metra also is reminding affected Red Line riders that they might want to consider driving to a Metra Station that services the Rock Island Metra line, parking for $1.50 and then hopping on a Metra train.

And over the five months of Red Line track rebuilding, Metra officials say they will monitor ridership demands closely to see if more adjustments are needed.

“Depending on where you live on the South Side and how you are commuting now, CTA service might be best for you,’’ Metra’s Gillis said. “But for some people, it might be more advantageous to ride Metra.’’

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