CTA announces plans for 25 cent fare hikes for bus and train riders

The Chicago Transit Authority has not raised its base fare — $2.25 for trains, $2 for buses — since 2009. But that will change in January. | Sun-Times photo

The CTA plans to raise bus and train fares by 25 cents, the transit agency announced Wednesday.

The fare hikes hikes will go into effect Jan. 7 under a newly proposed budget that knowledgable sources say is likely to be approved next month by the CTA board.

The good news is that the transit agency has no plans to cut service.

Under the new budget plan:

As for customers who might be upset about the increase, CTA President Dorval Carter said: “I understand their pain. This is not something that I wanted to do. It is not something that I had planned to do. I’ve gone nine years without having done this. No other transit system in the country has gone that long without raising their fares.”

The last time the Chicago Transit Authority raised fares was in 2009. The increase mirrored the one announced Wednesday: 25 cents.

Source: Chicago Transit Authority

The major reason for the latest fare hikes: a $33 million cut in 2018 funding from the state.

The loss in funding is “the equivalent of about 50 bus routes in the current operation,” Carter said Wednesday at a news conference in CTA’s downtown headquarters.

A surge in ride sharing and a drop in gas prices that’s prompted more people to use their personal vehicles helped account for a 2 percent loss in ridership this year, which also dented CTA coffers.

The fare increases will generate an estimated $23 million in 2018.

CTA President Dorval Carter announced the CTA fare increase in a news conference at the transit agency’s headquarters. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

An additional $23 million is expected from decreased labor costs, cheaper fuel and additional ad revenues.

“The state budget cut presents too much of a hurdle for us to cross without the additional revenues,” Jeremy Fine, the CTA’s chief financial officer, said Wednesday.

“To close that gap we really looked at all options … and while the fare hikes are never an easy decision, we didn’t want to roll back our service to our customers.”

To make the hikes easier to swallow, the CTA displayed a chart Wednesday that showed their 11 percent fare increase since 2009 pales in comparison to other price hikes over the same period, including a 48 percent increase in the cost of a Big Mac, a 45 percent increase in the price of Blackhawks tickets and an 88 percent increase to the cost of Illinois tollway fees.

Fine said cost-cutting and bringing in additional revenue since 2011 totaled about $300 million, but the extra cash could not stave off fare hikes.

Source: Chicago Transit Authority

Also under the proposed 2018 budget, 45 vacant CTA jobs will be eliminated and 70 job vacancies will be frozen. The jobs being eliminated will not be positions where employees deal with customers or provide public safety.

The overall proposed 2018 operating budget is about $1.5 billion, about $10 million less than this year’s budget.

However, CTA officials are in arbitration with their largest labor group, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308.

Labor costs make up about 67 percent of the total operating budget.

Fine said that should transit workers be granted a raise through arbitration — which has been ongoing since this summer — CTA officials will work on-the-fly to sort out that curve ball.

There’s no money earmarked in the proposed budget to cover any salary increases. Any solution is “to be determined,” Fine said.

CTA spokesman Brian Steele said the announcement of the fare hikes so close to Thanksgiving, a time when many people traditionally take a break from paying attention to the news, was simply a coincidence, and not meant to cushion against blowback.

“The CTA has its back to the wall. It’s either service cuts or a fare hike,” said DePaul University transportation expert Joseph Schwieterman.

The fare increase follows a national trend, which, on a local level, has also hit Pace and Metra, which have both instituted fare hikes for 2018, Schwieterman.

The move also comes on the heels of consecutive years of CTA ridership declines, Schwieterman said.

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