CTA poised for fare hikes, service cuts

  • By Amy Lee
  • Transit reporter
  • October 02, 2008 @ 11:30 AM

CTA riders will learn of impending pain to their pocketbooks next week when public transit officials reveal the depths of the agency’s 2009 budget woes.

Fare increases to ride the city’s sprawling transit system are likely to be included in the CTA’s plan to cut expenses and balance its more than $1 billion budget. More than 1.6 million rides are taken on the CTA buses and trains each day throughout Chicago and 40 surrounding suburbs.

CTA officials will present the proposed 2009 budget at a 10 a.m. meeting on Wednesday at CTA headquarters, 567 W. Lake. The meeting is open to the public.

The CTA in September cited soaring fuel prices, a cutback in state funding and a free ride program for seniors, low income disabled individuals and member of the military for triggering a 2009 shortfall of at least $66.5 million. But that’s only part of the agency’s budget crunch, said Sheila Gregory, CTA’s general manager of public affairs.

“The proposed 2009 budget is not yet final, so there is no projected deficit at this point, that is still coming together,” Gregory said in a written response to questions posed by the Chi-Town Daily News.

“The $66.5 million figure refers only to free rides and the loss of the reduced fare subsidy. When the proposed 2009 budget is final, the $66.5 million figure would be added into any additional deficit figure that may be projected for 2009.”

The CTA is required to present a balanced budget, Gregory said, so “any reference to a deficit will be in the context of any budget gap we will have to fill.”

Both CTA President Ron Huberman and board Chair Carole Brown have confirmed the agency is seriously considering a fare hikes to close the budget shortfall.

The agency’s funding problems hit near-fever pitch in late 2007, when the CTA decorated its buses and train with “doomsday” messages of impending service cuts if the state did not increase funding for the city’s transit system. The Illinois General Assembly raised regional sales taxes and increased the real estate transfer tax by 40 percent to avoid massive CTA fare hikes.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich earlier this year vetoed more than $16 million in reduced-fare subsidies to the CTA – cash the agency counted on to curb the blow of the free-rides programs, according to Huberman.

The budget crunch – and proposed fare hikes – has the transit group Citizens Taking Action concerned that seniors won’t be riding for free much longer, said the group’s Secretary Charles Paidock, a retired librarian. Citizens Taking Action lobbied hard to advocate the free rides for seniors program.

“Are they going to take the free rides away from seniors? It’s a realistic fear,” he said. “We’ll roll up our sleeves and take ‘em on. We should be working to expand ridership, not taking it away.”

To get a handle on expenses, 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.

Amy Lee is a Chicago-based journalist. She covers transit issues for the Daily News.