below, Durbin, Kirk release...
DURBIN, KIRK ASK METRA TO JUSTIFY FARE INCREASES, CONSULTING FEES
Metra proposes 30% fare increase to close budget shortfall, pays consultant half million per year
[CHICAGO, IL] - United States Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) today sent a letter to Alex Clifford, Executive Director and CEO of Metra, asking him to offer an explanation of costs incurred by the agency, and justify the proposed 30% fare increase. Metra currently has a six-month, $225,000 contract with George Avery Grimes, a consultant brought on to increase agency efficiencies and reduce costs. Grimes' contract is under review for a six-month extension. In their letter, Durbin and Kirk request that Metra disclose any additional outside contracts and consultants to demonstrate that all potential efficiencies and budget reductions have been exhausted before the Board of Directors votes on the proposed fare hike.
[Text of the letter is below]
Mr. Alex Clifford
Executive Director and CEO
Metra 547 W. Jackson Blvd. Chicago, IL 60661
September 20, 2011
Dear Mr. Clifford,
We write to you regarding a Metra staff proposal for a nearly 30 percent increase in fares to close the agency's annual budget shortfall of $64.7 million. We understand the financial challenges facing Metra and other transit agencies around the nation, and respect the need to examine all options to ensure the safe and reliable operation of commuter rail. However, we feel the riders of Metra deserve an explanation for many of the costs incurred by the agency.
According to media reports, Metra currently pays consultant George Avery Grimes a six-month, $225,000 fee that is under review for an additional six-month extension. This contract is nearly twice as much as any salaried employee and represents about 10 percent of Metra's 2012 efficiencies and cost reductions.
Following the recently discovered activities of Metra's former executive director, every expenditure needs to be carefully vetted before fare increases or service reductions occur.
We agree that Metra may need to utilize outside consultants to cut costs and improve services. However, such significant investments need to be justified. Before the Board of Directors votes on staff recommendations, we ask that Metra disclose any additional outside contracts and consultants, and demonstrate that all potential efficiencies and budget reductions have been exhausted.
Mark S. Kirk
Richard J. Durbin