CTA riders beware: fare hikes could be on the horizon as early as next year.
Budget woes at the Chicago Transit Authority have officials predicting a shortfall of some $66 million in 2009, a gap which they say may prompt the agency to increase fares to ride the city's buses and trains.
"One thing we may have to consider and is on the table is a fare hike," says CTA Chairwoman Carole Brown. "We, like every other transit agency in the world, do not collect revenue sufficient to operate the system."
Both Brown and CTA President Ron Huberman cited a variety of factors for the projected deficit during the CTA's monthly board meeting today.
Key factors, they say, include a spike in fuel, power and labor costs, a program that allows seniors, the disabled and members of the military to ride for free, a "softening" of sale tax revenue and the loss of state's reduced fare subsidy.
"All of these factors impact the bottom line," Huberman said.
The fare hike warning came just hours after Gov. Rod Blagojevich accused CTA officials of "scaring" Illinois lawmakers into passing a sales tax increase in January in exchange for agreeing not to raise fares, cut jobs or reduce service, according to the Associated Press. He told that news agency the CTA should stop blaming senior citizens for its budget woes.
Huberman and Brown denied the CTA is placing blame on the free ride programs, and Huberman said he will not engage in a "back and forth" with the governor through the media.
"Free rides come at a real cost," Huberman said. "It's just one of the factors that has brought us to the situation we are in today. We're unlikely to see service cuts, there may be a fare increase, but we just don't know."
To help solve the problem, CTA officials plan to eliminate 80 administrative jobs though layoffs and cutting vacant positions before the end of the year. They also have cut 43 non-union jobs at a projected savings of $4.9 million. The CTA also has opted to outsource it refuse collection, which it projects will save about $500,000.
Those measures cut about $40 million from the 2009 budget, Huberman said, but it will not be enough to stave off the projected shortfall.
The CTA will present its proposed 2009 budget to the transit board on Oct. 8. Public hearings on the proposed budget are scheduled to be held on Oct. 29.
In other transit authority news:
· The CTA will hold public hearings later this month to gauge the public's reaction to a plan to test bus-only lanes on four routes on portions of Chicago Avenue, 79th Street and Jeffery Boulevard and Halsted Street. The city is poised to receive $153 million in federal dollars to implement the bus-only lanes, which would start with about 10 miles of bus-only lanes but could expand to more than 100 miles if the program is successful. The hearings are scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sept. 24 at the Gary Comer Youth Center, 7200 Ingleside and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sept 25 at the Near North branch of the Chicago Public Library, 310 W. Division.
· Members of the CTA's committee on finance, audit and budget were given the go-ahead to research the creation of a not-for-profit organization. Such an organization would accept private donations, which would be used to take on "special projects," such as beautification projects, at CTA stops and around bus barns, Brown said. Donations made to the not-for-profit would be separate from the CTA's operations fund, she said.
Amy Lee is a Chicago-based journalist. She covers transit issues for the Daily News.