Threatened fare increases could become reality Wednesday when the Chicago Transit Authority board votes on its proposed 2009 budget.
The CTA’s budget calls for an increase of at least a quarter to ride the cities buses and trains beginning in January, and the cost of a 30-day pass would to rise to $90 from $75. Discounts for Chicago Card users would be eliminated, as well.
The CTA’s budget for 2009 is $1.324 billion, up 9.5 percent from its 2008 budget of $1.209 billion. The CTA’s budget shortfall is pegged at $42.2 million, and both CTA President Ron Huberman and board Chair Carole Brown have said fare increases would plug the hole without forcing the agency to cut services.
Agency officials say the budget does not divert cash needed for physical improvements to the system to pay for operations.The board will vote on the budget during a 10 a.m. meeting Wednesday at CTA headquarters, 567 W. Lake. The meeting is open to the public.
The proposed increases have drawn the ire of riders, many of whom claim the system is already too expensive and unreliable to boot. Other argues the hikes add yet another burden to an already-woeful economy.
“We’ve heard the same old argument before that there hasn’t been a fare increase for a year or two, so it’s time to do it again. As if it’s automatic and acceptable,” said Charles Paidock, secretary of the transit advocacy group Citizens Taking Action.
The CTA’s Huberman blames higher-than-expected fuel, material and power costs for the budget shortfall. Huberman also points to lower returns on sales and real estate transfer taxes and the costs to run the agency’s free ride programs that allow seniors, the disabled and members of the military to ride for free.
The proposed increases amount to $2.25 for a train ride and $2 for a bus ride for those who use regular transit or Chicago Cards. Cash fares on buses will rise to $2.25. And 30-day pass price for unlimited rides will rise to $90 from its current rate of $75.
The proposed fare hike comes during a time when an "informal" study by Citizens Taking Action found CTA rates are among the highest in the nation. The group 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. The group calculated a national average for basic rides and weekly and monthly passes.
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 Citizens Taking Action survey results are similar to a 2007 Daily News analysis which found the CTA had the most expensive fares of the nation's largest transit agencies.
Another 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.
Amy Lee is a Chicago-based journalist. She covers transit issues for the Daily News.