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CHICAGO (AP) — Metra is restoring service on all train lines to pre-pandemic levels and won't raise fares next year in hopes more and more riders will return to using the suburban Chicago commuter rail service.

Metra approved a new, $900 million operating budget for 2022 on Wednesday. It assumes Metra will start 2022 with ridership at about 25% of pre-pandemic levels, and that it will grow to about 35% by the end of the year.

"After nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, there remains a great deal of uncertainty about how and when things will return to normal," said Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski.

He said the most responsible approach is to use cautious assumptions about the growth in ridership while simulatneously ramping up service so Metra is ready when passengers are.

The budget projects Metra will bring in about $146 million from fares and other system-generated revenue. The agency also is using about $300 million in federal pandemic relief funding.

Metra also is introducing a new $6 day pass, which will give passengers unlimited travel between any three zones. It will be sold as part of a one-year pilot program, and will replace the current $10 day pass, which provides unlimited travel across all zones. Metra believes the new pass will encourage people to use the rail service for shorter trips, between suburbs or Chicago neighborhoods.

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