Illinois public transportation advocates are calling attention to the potentially "devastating" effects Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's 2016 budget proposal could have on train and bus services across the state.
Spearheaded by the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, the coalition of advocates has launched a new campaign called "Grow Illinois Transit" to raise awareness about Rauner's proposed budget cuts to Amtrak, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra, Pace and downstate bus services. Other organizations involved with the coalition include the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308, the Illinois Environmental Council, Illinois PIRG and the Sierra Club's Illinois chapter.
Under Rauner's budget plan for the 2016 fiscal year, which beings July 1, the CTA, Metra and Pace could see their collective funding slashed by over $160 million. Amtrak faces a $16 million cut, which represents a 40 percent reduction in funding.
Speaking at a Chicago press conference Monday afternoon, transit advocates said Rauner's fiscal plan could result in significant fare hikes as well as bus and train services being reduced or eliminated altogether.
"Cutting transit operating funding is going in the wrong direction," said Midwest High Speed Rail Association Executive Director Richard Harnish. "We need to be working to invest further in making the system work better so that more people can travel, so that we become a much more productive place to live, a more attractive place to live, and we can continue to grow the economy and therefore grow the tax base in order to afford the other things that we want."
As part of the Grow Illinois Transit campaign, the coalition is not endorsing specific revenue generation proposals to help address the state's budgetary issues. It is, however, urging Illinois residents to lobby their state lawmakers against public transportation cuts. Grow Illinois Transit leaders plan to engage more directly with lawmakers over transportation funding in upcoming weeks.
Among other potential consequences of Rauner's budget plan, two daily trains in Southern Illinois, the Illini and the Saluki, could be eliminated under a "worst-case scenario," transportation advocates have previously noted. For downstate bus services, Rauner's proposed budget could result in 6 million fewer trips annually, Harnish said.
In Chicago, the CTA is up against a possible cut of $130 million.
"CTA said in testimony that the CTA cuts alone are the equivalent of all of the money it takes to run the Red Line, the Brown Line and the Orange Line," explained Dan Johnson, a lobbyist for the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. "Not that they would shut those lines down, but that's the magnitude of the cuts that this represents ... $130 million is a lot of money, and so that will mean major service cuts and fare hikes to try to balance that budget."
But public transit riders are not the only ones who could be impacted by Rauner's transporation cuts, if approved.
"For the people that maybe don't ride CTA, or don't ride Metra, but think, "Hey, I drive to work. What do I care?' (Traffic congestion) gets worse the less public transportation we have, which is why we need to be growing our transit to help the drivers out too, and help all the delivery folks drive, because our highways and our roads are clogged to capacity," Johnson said. "Nothing beats that traffic congestion like public transportation."
Here's more from today's press conference, including comments from Harnish, ATU Local 308 President Ken Franklin and Sharonda Williams with the Illinois Environmental Council:
"Our message today is simple: We need to grow, not cut, Illinois transit," added Illinois PIRG Director Abe Scarr.
Scarr noted that Illinois residents are currently driving less and using more alternative transportation options than they have in previous years.
"Yet despite all this, Gov. Rauner's budget cuts transit while spending more money on building new roads," he said. "Now roads, of course, are also important. Our buses go on our roads. But we think this is a misplaced priority, and, if anything, we should be putting money into repairing and maintaining our current infrastructure and not building new roads."