CTA fares to be country's priciest

The CTA will have the most expensive fares of the nation's largest transit agencies if regional transportation officials approve a fare increase at their meeting tomorrow.

The CTA faces a $110 million budget gap, and plans to close it with service cuts and fare increases. Under the plan, which will take effect Sept. 16 if approved by the Regional Transportation Authority, rail fares will climb to $3 during peak periods.

By comparison, a ride on New York City's subway costs $2.

A bus ride in Los Angeles costs $1.25, while the CTA's cash bus fare will rise to $2.50 if the RTA approves the rate changes.

The Daily News surveyed the nation's five largest urban transit systems, and found the CTA's new rates were generally the highest.

"It doesn't make sense that Chicago's public transportation costs more than a place like New York. Where is all of that money going?" asks CTA rider Marlon Guzman.

A CTA spokeswoman did not immediately respond to questions about the agency's proposed fares.

In Washington, D.C., the city's transit agency sets rail fares based on the distance traveled and the time of day. Its highest rush-hour fare is $3.90. But the agency's average 2005 fare was $1.44, well below Chicago's new rates. D.C.'s overall cost of living is 20 percent higher than Chicago's.

In New York, where the cost of living is nearly twice as high as Chicago's, and the transit system has five times as many riders, a monthly transit pass costs $76. The monthly Chicago card will cost $84 under the CTA's proposed fare increases.

In L.A., a monthly pass costs $62, while the city's overall cost of living is nearly 40 percent higher than Chicago's.

At the Clark and Foster bus stop, a CTA customer who gave his name as Femi says he plans to stop riding.

"Right now I rely on the transit system for school, but if the fares increase again, I will definitely be buying a car," he said.

The budget suspends 39 bus routes, including the Marine/Michigan Express, the Union/Wacker Express, and 17 other express routes.

The agency will also pare 700 jobs and put 314 fewer buses on the street during rush hour.

CTA officials have said the cuts are required because of years of shrinking state funding. State legislators are still debating next year's budget. If they pass a fiscal plan that includes funding for the CTA, the agency could back away from the fare increases.

The RTA will vote on its budget, which includes the CTA's fare hikes, at a public meeting starting at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow at 175 W. Jackson Blvd.



We can avoid this fare hike if the Illinois General Assembly passes SB 572 in the next few weeks that would raise the sales tax by 0.25 percent to fund transit. We all benefit (particularly drivers, because of less traffic congestion) with high transit ridership. Check out www.MovingBeyondCongestion.org for how you can help avoid the highest fares in the nation.