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CTA board approves budget with no fare hikes

The CTA board approved a 2015 budget with no fare increases next year — and projections of no fare hikes for two years after that.

The $1.44 billion spending plan also boasts no service cuts, and provides a slight increase in rush-hour rail service on the Blue and Orange Lines following service additions this year on the Red, Purple and Brown Lines.

The Chicago Transit Authority board unanimously approved the budget Wednesday.

But the board didn’t comment at their meeting Wednesday on the two busloads of riders who showed up in yellow t-shirts at Monday night’s budget hearings urging the restoration of the gutted No. 11 Lincoln Avenue bus.

Riders urging the CTA to “Bring Back No. 11” bus along Lincoln Avenue crowd a Nov 2014 public hearing on the CTA’s 2015 budget.

The portion of the route from Western to Fullerton was axed as part of a late 2012 “de-crowding” effort to rebalance CTA services.

CTA Board vice chairman Jackie Grimshaw said Thursday the proposal was not yet completely off the table, as she is asking staff questions about the route.

For the second year in a row, the budget contained no service cuts or fare increases. But in other good news for riders, the 200-page 2015 budget included projections for 2016 and 2017 indicating that the agency’s “conservative estimate” is that fare revenues will increase 1 percent in 2016 and 1.5 percent in 2017.

The fare revenue boost was attributed to an anticipated improvement in the labor market combined with increased gas and parking costs that could discourage drivers from heading downtown.

A summary of the CTA’s budget by its financial overseer, the Regional Transportation Authority, also noted that the CTA’s 2015 budget did not include any fare increases in the 2016 and 2017 planning years.

For the fourth year, the 2015 budget is balanced without using any capital funds to cover operating costs. CTA President Forrest Claypool said he has replaced “doomsday budgets and runaway costs” of the past with “responsible fiscal management.”

Capital projects that will continue in 2015 include a new $240 million 95th Street Red Line station; the $203 million reconstruction of the Wilson Avenue Station on the Red and Purple Lines; opening of a new Cermak/McCormick Place station on the Green Line; continued Blue Line upgrades to O’Hare International Airport; Brown and Purple Line track upgrades between Chicago and Armitage and upgraded wireless communications in CTA subways.

In addition, delivery is expected to be completed next year on 714 new rail cars and 300 new buses.

The Civic Federation, a fiscal watchdog group, supported the budget, but said it was “overly optimistic” in assuming the state would restore a trimmed subsidy for reduced-fare riders.