Metra OKs $2.7M in lobbying contracts with clouted firms; new seats en route

Metra’s board of directors on Wednesday renewed contracts with six politically connected lobbying firms for new, five-year periods for almost $2.7 million.

Four of the six contracts were set to expire at the end of the year, but will now be renewed through 2022.

Metra negotiated with the firms, and the new contracts reduce the cost of monthly retainers by 15 percent, resulting in $500,000 in savings over the next five years, said Metra spokeswoman Wendy Abrams.

Metra officials have said the commuter rail agency needs $12 billion to keep the system in a state of good repair over the next 10 years, and it relies on funding from the state and Washington, D.C.

Orseno said after the meeting that Metra expects to have his replacement as CEO in place in mid-September and that the selection process is going well, with about five interviews left to do. Candidates have come from both inside and outside Metra, he said.

Also on Wednesday, after a yearlong pilot program to test a new style of seats with armrests and cup holders, Metra announced plans to purchase and install new seats on an ongoing basis as it rehabilitates its fleet of rail cars. Metra’s board approved a five-year contract with Kustom Seating Unlimited for almost $17 million.

Based on customer feedback, the new seats will have bigger cup holders than those in the test program, armrests will be added to aisle seats and seats will be modified slightly to widen aisles to their original width. The new seats will be stationary, which will not please riders who like to be able to change the seats’ direction.

In a statement, Metra said that it hoped the new design will prevent injuries to customers and employees who pinch fingers and strain muscles flipping the older seats. Metra said it is not spending any extra money on the new seats, which cost the same as the old style of seats, but that they are being installed in cars whose seats need replacement. There are more manufacturers of this style of seats in the industry, which is expected to keep prices competitive in the future, Metra said.

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