Reporting Bob Roberts
CHICAGO (CBS) – Pace is the first of the area’s transit systems to unveil a proposed 2014 budget, and it holds the line on most fares while promising additional service.
Details remain a bit sketchy because of the Regional Transportation Authority’s inability to resolve a tug of war over “discretionary” funding that has traditionally gone almost exclusively to CTA. But the suburban bus agency is planning to buy more than 40 new buses, 166 pool vans and 80 paratransit vehicles.
Among the improvements being made are new buses on the 600/Northwest Express and 610/River Road-Prairie Stone Express that are equipped with free Wi-Fi. Pace is expecting double-digit increases in ridership once reconstruction begins on the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) next spring.
Pace will stop issuing cash transfers, effective Dec. 15, as it completes its conversion to the Ventra card system. Those who pay cash will have to pay a full fare each time they board another bus. And to encourage Ventra use, it will treat unregistered personal contactless credit and debit cards as cash, charging full fare when boarding each new bus.
Spokesman Patrick Wilmot said the agency has never had more van pool participants. Pace projects a 5 percent increase in paratransit riders, and a 2.7 percent increase in ridership on its suburban-focused bus service.
In addition to the purchase of new buses and vans, Pace intends to spend $12 million to renovate its Markham garage. All buses operating from Markham, once the renovation is complete, will burn natural gas instead of diesel fuel. Wilmot said that the Markham garage is used by 23 routes, and houses 108 buses.
The $155 suburban bus budget and $147 million six-county paratransit budget will be the subject of two weeks of hearings that begin Oct. 21 and run through Oct. 30.