Monday, October 29, 2007

for Chicago readers

The Chicago Transit Authority plans to eliminate 43 more bus routes and hike fares to as high as $3.25 per ride in January under the 2008 "doomsday" budget announced today.

And the reason behind CTA's funding crunch, a lack of state help, is taking its toll on Metra, too. Officials for the commuter rail line made their own announcement today that riders could face a 20 percent fare hike -- double what had been previously predicted – as well as service reductions on some lines in February.

On the CTA, regular cash fares would increase from the current $2 rate to $2.50 on Nov. 4. As of Jan. 6, that would go up again to $2.75. The cash fare would top out at $3.25 on trains during peak travel periods.

Users of electronic Chicago Cards would also pay more. The current $1.75 fare would go up to $2 in November -- then jump again to $2.25 for bus riders and $2.50 for peak-period train riders on Jan. 6.

Riders who use the regular transit cards would see fares jump to $2 for bus service and $2.50 for rail in November, then $2.25 for bus and $2.75 for rail in January. In November, the peak rail fare would increase to $3, then to $3.25 in January.

Thirty-day passes, now $75, would increase to $84 in November, then $94 in January.

Senior citizens and students would not face any fare increases.

The January round of proposed cuts, combined with those already announced for next month, would also mean the elimination of more than half the CTA's bus routes.

If that happened, the agency expects that its daily ridership would drop by about 250,000, to about 1.35 million.

The elimination of 43 bus routes in January—announced today by CTA President Ron Huberman—would come on top of the 39 bus routes to be cut effective Nov. 4.

If both those rounds of cuts took place, that would leave the CTA with only 72 bus routes. It currently has 154 bus routes.

During a news conference at CTA headquarters, Huberman said the beleaguered agency did not plan to reduce rail service for January beyond the possible suspension of Purple Line/Evanston Express trains in November.

In addition, Huberman said the CTA would lay off nearly 1,800 employees in January. That would be in addition to the approximately 620 CTA employees already notified of layoffs effective in November.

Those combined layoffs represent about 22 percent of the CTA work force of about 11,000.

The likelihood of the CTA contingency plan actually having to being implemented has increased because of a lingering stalemate in the Illinois legislature over how to fund Chicago-area mass transit as well as road and bridge repairs statewide.

Metra Executive Director Phil Pagano said today that without additional funding from Springfield, the commuter rail line will be forced to adopt a 2008 budget next month with increased fares as well as other actions.

There is "no doubt" there will be fare increases of 10 to 20 percent, Pagano said. He had previously warned of fare hikes of about only 10 percent.

Metra's board of directors will consider a menu of options at a special meeting Oct. 24.

Its last fare increase was 5 percent in February 2006.

Metra riders might also see weekend service cut back, or reductions on low-ridership lines or on ones where passengers have the best option to take a different line, officials said.

Friday's warnings are the most specific ones yet coming from Metra as a result of budget deficits facing the region's three transit agencies.

Metra has gotten by so far by diverting its capital funds into operating needs, a total of $60 million in 2007.

The CTA, Metra and Pace had been counting on the General Assembly to fill a $226 million shortfall in their 2007 budgets. Legislation that would increase the sales tax imposed by the Regional Transportation Authority in the six-county region failed to pass in a House vote this summer.

But the Senate has not voted on the sales tax proposal. Instead, its leadership has focused on reaching a compromise on a capital bill for highways, mass transit, school construction and other infrastructure. Under the plan, mass transit funding would be considered later.

But the deadline clock is ticking, with CTA and Pace customers facing uncertainties about their travel options starting in about three weeks -- if lawmakers fail to make progress on funding.

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