Another year, another Chicago Transit Authority "doomsday" scenario. Newly appointed CTA chief Terry Peterson is scheduled to unveil his agency's FY 2010 budget today and the details don't look promising. Facing an estimated $300 million deficit, a legal ad ...
Another year, another Chicago Transit Authority "doomsday" scenario. Newly appointed CTA chief Terry Peterson is scheduled to unveil his agency's FY 2010 budget today and the details don't look promising. Facing an estimated $300 million deficit, a legal ad placed in the Tribune this morning says that the basic fare for trains and Lake Shore Drive express bus routes will jump $.75 while bus riders will be required to fork over an additional $.25 per ride. Nine bus routes will also be eliminated while 41 others will experience reduced hours.
Keep in mind that these fare changes will be implemented solely to close the 2010 operating shortfall. (The CTA has already filled $122 million of their deficit by requiring non-union workers to take unpaid furlough days and by diverting money appropriated for capital expansion into the operating fund.) Even though ridership is ballooning, the city isn't raising additional revenue to expand or enhance services. And those capital improvements are desperately needed; more than one-third of the existing trains, equipment, and facilities are outdated. Illinois PIRG estimates that it would take $60 billion over 30 years to expand its stressed fleets, extend routes to underserved communities, and perform routine maintenance on the existing infrastructure.
While it's true that the recession has hit the agency especially hard --the CTA gets half of its funding from retail and real estate sales taxes, receipts of which have plummeted -- the city's funding problems are largely systemic. Generating adequate revenue would require reforming the CTA's rigid funding restrictions (most notably the hefty state-mandated "recovery ratio"), rebalancing the state's surface transportation priorities, and devoting existing city resources to projects from which the public benefits. Securing those changes will take a lot of political will, which is tough to come by these days in both Springfield and at Chicago City Hall. Until then, transit commuters across the region will bear the burden.