Metra Passengers Who Threaten, Harm Someone Can Be Banned Under New Policy

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

Metra passengers who verbally or physically threaten or harm someone could be banned from riding Metra trains.

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“No transit employee should have to face an individual who has spit in their face, threatened their life, placed their hands on them or physically assaulted them,” Bob Guy, director of the SMART Transportation Division conductors’ union, said in a statement.

Metra’s directors on Wednesday adopted a new policy, which takes effect next month, on a 10-0 vote.

The new code of conduct prohibits pushing, waving a gun at someone, harassment and “acts of public indecency.”

“A lot of the behaviors in the code, if you were to commit them, are criminal offenses as well. And they still will be,” Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said. “But we did not have a way to bar people from riding our trains.”

Now Metra can, thanks to a state law (HB 1342 / Public Act 103-0281) that took effect Jan. 1, that allows Illinois public transit agencies to adopt regulations that would lead to suspending passengers’ riding privileges or confiscating their fare cards and train tickets.

“It’s allowing us to bar people from riding and to confiscate their fare media,” Gillis said. “So if you have paper ticket or a ticket on the mobile app, we’d be able to remove it from your phone. But only if we go through the whole process.”

If someone acts inappropriately while on a train, the process calls for Metra crew members to contact Metra’s own police department. An officer would meet the train as soon as possible (“That does lead to delays,” Gillis said).

The officer may issue a criminal citation, but with the new policy, starting in February the officer could also summon a rider to a hearing that would determine whether they’ll be temporarily barred from riding the Metra in the future and for how long, and whether the rider’s fare media will be confiscated.

If the latter happens, the rider would be reimbursed for the remaining available fare.

According to the code of conduct, a first offense will generally result in a 10-day suspension, a second offense 30 days, a third for six months and a fourth offense a year-long prohibition from riding Metra.

“However, Metra reserves the right to skip tiers when assessing suspension lengths for serious offenses,” the code reads. “Additionally, repeated suspensions may result in a suspension of multiple years.”

Investigations of the conduct have to be completed in 30 days, after which Metra will hold a hearing where an official from the agency will make a final call on the consequences. 

Alleged offenders can attend the hearing in-person, by phone or virtually; suspended riders can appeal twice and those who are suspended for more than a year can petition to have ridership privileges reinstated a year in.

“We have a very safe system, so this is not in response to incidents on the trains,” Gillis said. “We view it as a tool in our toolbelt, to protect our employees and our riders.”

Gillis said the policy can serve as both a deterrent and a way to keep “bad actors” off the trains.

Metra must publish quarterly reports detailing how many people had their fare media suspended or riding privileges revoked, the individuals’ demographics, details on the behavior that led to punishment and the length of the suspension.

In a separate vote, Metra on Wednesday made permanent a pandemic-era policy that allows bikes and e-scooters on all trains. Prior to the pandemic, bikes were only allowed on trains that ran outside of rush hours, but the agency temporarily lifted that restriction when ridership plummeted.

Metra said 260,000 riders brought bikes aboard last year — the highest number ever. To better accommodate more bikes and e-scooters, Metra is installing racks on 50 cars. Those cars will be marked on the exterior with stickers so that riders with bikes can find them. It doesn’t cost extra to bring a bike.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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