Chicago transit ridership down for second year in a row

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Transit ridership across the Chicago area is expected to end the year down 1.5 percent from the previous year — something that concerned the Regional Transportation Authority Wednesday.

Chicago transit ridership had the second biggest drop among nine peers, falling 2.7 percent in the first three quarters of the year alone, data presented to the RTA Wednesday indicated.

Only Philadelphia, where riders faced higher fares and a tough winter, had a larger ridership decline year-to-date — of 7.4 percent, RTA data indicated.

The Chicago area declines marked the second consecutive year of ridership losses after ridership peaked in 2012, the RTA noted in its 2015 budget.

It blamed this year’s hit on “severe winter weather,” “unfavorable” Chicago Transit Authority and Pace bus ridership numbers — which may have been impacted more than rail by the January polar vortex and lower fuel prices.

“The biggest problem is ridership,” RTA Finance Committee chair Dwight Magalis of Lake County said Wednesday, “particularly at the bus level.”

During an RTA meeting Wednesday, Magalis asked the CTA, Metra and Pace to discuss how they will address ridership at a Dec. 3 RTA meeting.

Only Metra and Pace’s disabled ridership is expected to end the year slightly higher than the year before, the RTA’s 2015 budget indicated Wednesday.

The CTA was forecast to wrap up 2014 with 10.3 million fewer rides, and Pace’s suburban operation was expected to be down 400,000 rides, according to the RTA’s budget.

CTA bus numbers also may have dipped in 2014 after being artificially inflated in 2013, when the transit agency offered free bus shuttles and enhanced bus service during the reconstruction of the south end of the Red Line, RTA officials said.

However, for 2015, the CTA is projecting an overall ridership increase of .7 percent, with an even larger rise expected in rail than bus. Metra, in contrast, is forecasting a downturn of 1.1 percent due to a scheduled 2015 fare increase of nearly 11 percent.

Overall, 2015 public funding for Chicago area transit was expected to come in 4.4 percent higher than in 2014, buoyed by a 4 percent projected increase in sales tax receipts and a 5 percent jump in real estate transfer tax receipts.

The RTA’s 2015 budget of $42.2 million is up 3.14 percent from the 2014 budget, documents indicated Wednesday.

A public hearing on it is scheduled from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Dec. 3 at RTA headquarters, 175 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, in the 16th floor RTA board room. Comments also may be emailed

RTA board members are due to vote on the budget Dec. 19.

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