Regionwide fare hikes means public will pay more for public transporation in 2009

  • By Amy Lee
  • Transit reporter
  • November 21, 2008 @ 12:00 PM

The Chicagoland riding public will shoulder more of the costs for public transportation in 2009.

A region wide look at the approved CTA, Pace suburban bus and Metra commuter train 2009 budgets show both CTA and Pace riders will shell out at least a quarter more to ride city trains and city and suburban buses in 2009.

Metra is not hiking 2009 fares, but that agency’s board already raised fares by 10 percent earlier this year.

“It doesn’t bother me too much, because it’s only a quarter or so for me,” said Todd Krause, 27, as he waited for a #66 CTA Chicago bus toward downtown on Thursday afternoon.

“But what’s going to stop them from raising it again next year? I don’t think the economy is going to turn around that fast and it seems like they think increasing fares is the only way to do it.”

The Regional Transportation Authority board oversees budgets and regional planning for the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra commuter rail and Pace suburban bus and paratransit. The RTA faces estimated shortfall of at least $92 million this year, and this week wrapped up the last of its 11 public hearings on its 2009 budget. The RTA board will vote on its proposed budget on Dec. 18.

Illinois law requires CTA, Metra and Pace to collectively recover at least 50 percent of operating costs from the fare box.

The RTA provides public funding for the remaining operating expenses, and shortfalls this year prompted both CTA and Pace to raise fares.

RTA Executive Director Steve Schlickman has said that rising fuel prices, free rides for seniors and military personnel, the loss of state funding for reduced fares and the economic downturn strained the agency's finances.

Steady increases in fuel, material and labor costs had each public transit agency struggling to close budget gaps, and transit officials are also clamoring for more state funding for what they claim are badly needed capital improvement dollars to upgrade facilities.

The CTA, for instance, has a $6.8 billion unfunded capital program, according to Paul Fish, CTA vice president of capital investment. That agency opted to raise fares to close a $42.2 million budget shortfall for 2009.

“The longer we go without a capital program, the more expensive it becomes,” Fish told Chicago Transit Authority board members earlier this month. The CTA finalized a $1.321 billion budget earlier this month.

CTA board President Carole Brown said she did not “relish” an increase, but she was pleased the agency found a way to balance its 2009 without cutting train or bus service routes.

The CTA – which transports 1 million bus riders daily and about 500,000 on its train system - approved a fare structure that will see riders paying $2.25 cash for a bus ride or $2 with a transit card, while train rides will cost $2.25. The cost of a one-day pass will rise to $5.75 from $5, a three-day pass will rise to $14 from $12 and a seven-day pass will cost $23 from $20.

The increases, while expected, were slightly less than the CTA President Ron Huberman requested in his proposed 2009 budget. CTA board member Susan Loomis said the hikes were regrettable, but unavoidable.

“There is no way, without being fiscally irresponsible, that we could get by without a fare increase in 2009,” she said.

The CTA – which hosts 1 million bus riders daily and about 500,000 on its train system -- approved a fare structure that will see riders paying $2.25 cash for a bus ride or $2 with a transit card, while train rides will cost $2.25.

The cost of a one-day pass will rise to $5.75 from $5, a three-day pass will rise to $14 from $12 and a seven-day pass will cost $23 from $20.

Pace riders will pay $1.75 on all routes, the first increase in eight years. Also, as of Dec. 31, Pace will no longer accept the CTA seven-day pass, but has approved a new Pace/CTA pass to accommodate riders who use both services. That pass will cost $28.

 

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

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