Survey: CTA rides are country's most expensive

  • By Amy Lee
  • Transit reporter
  • October 16, 2008 @ 4:00 PM

A transit watchdog group says Chicagoans pay more to ride public transit than residents of other major cities, and that proposed 2009 fare increases would further burden riders dependent on the system for travel.

Citizens Taking Action, an advocacy group for transit-dependent riders, conducted an "informal" study of transit costs in several urban areas, including New York, Boston and Los Angeles, among others. The group calculated a national average for basic rides and weekly and monthly passes and found Chicago Transit Authority rates are among the most costly in the nation.

The study found the nationwide average for a basic fare is $1.53, compared CTA's rate of $1.75 per bus ride or $2 for the El. Weekday passes nationwide average $17.80 and monthly passes average $58.43, while the CTA charges $24 for a weekly pass and $75 for a monthly pass.

The results of the survey are based on current CTA rates. The agency in 2009 has proposed hiking fares to $2 for the bus and $2.25 for the El, $24 for weekly and $90 for monthly passes.

The Citizens Taking Action survey results echo a 2007 Daily News analysis, which found the CTA had the most expensive fares of the nation's largest transit agencies.

A subsequent Daily News investigation found the CTA pays among the highest wages of any major U.S. urban transit system, devotes a bigger share of its operating budget to payroll than all but a few other big systems, and had created fiscal chaos by mismanaging its pension system.

This week, Citizens Taking Action acknowledged comparing transit systems is difficult due to variations on zones, peak/off peak travel times, paid versus free transfers, express services, bulk discount tickets and other variables. 

Despite the variables, the group argues Chicagoans pay more to ride than transit riders in other major U.S. Cities.

"It's tough to advocate the use of public transit when the deciding officials work against you," Charles Paidock, secretary of the organization, said in a statement. He could not be reached for further comment today.

"We've heard the same old argument before that there hasn't been an increase for a year or two, therefore it's time to do it again," Paidock says. "Other cities are looking to lower or eliminate fares altogether to reduce congestion or pollution, and increase ridership, but Chicago's going in the opposite direction."

In addition to the proposed increases to ride the cities buses and train, the suburban bus service Pace this week announced for the first time in eight years it will also seek a fare increase to balance its 2009 budget. The agency is facing a $20 million budget shortfall.

According to the proposed Pace budget, regular adult fares will increase by a quarter to $1.75, and adult fares on Metra Feeder service -- as well as in local fare zones in Joliet, Aurora, Elgin, and Waukegan -- will increase by 50 cents to $1.75. Vanpool fares would rise by 10 percent, but fares for Pace paratransit riders would remain the same.

"We realize that no one likes a fare increase, but the pressures of a slow economy and rising expenses have become too much to bear," Pace board Chairman Richard Kwasneski said in a statement.

Pace officials blame rising fuel costs, free rides programs and a decrease in public funding for running up higher-than-expected expenses in 2008.
Pace has scheduled 13 public hearings on its proposed 2009 budget. 

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

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