CTA Says It Will Hold The Line On Fares Next Year — If Springfield Comes Through

(CBS) — Riders are skeptical of the CTA’s ability to freeze fares and preserve service levels in its 2016 budget.

As first reported by WBBM, the budget is based on an assumption that funding levels will remain the same, despite threats by Gov. Bruce Rauner to make significant reductions.

Passengers are leery of the CTA’s ability to hold to that promise.

The $1.47 billion operating budget maintains fares at current levels for the third consecutive year and restores express service on its heavily-used Western and Ashland Avenue bus routes.

During a news conference Thursday at the Addison Street Blue Line station, both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. said they expected the budget battle between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-controlled legislature over transit subsidies will be resolved with funding at “historical levels.”

“That’s not just a belief.  It actually will be forced on them whether they want to or not by all the economics and the financial markets to get their jobs done,” Emanuel said.

The budget document also assumes CTA wages will not increase in 2016. Current contracts with the Amalgamated Transit Union, covering bus and rapid transit operations, expire at year’s end. Union employees received more than 10 percent in wage increases over four years.

Carter said CTA also intends to eliminate 100 management positions, representing 2 percent of those CTA employees who are not involved directly with transit operations.

For the fifth consecutive year, the CTA budget does not seek to transfer funding from capital accounts to pay some operating expenses.

The inability to say with certainty that state funding levels would remain the same worries riders.

“I hope that they stay the same because I ride it every day. It’s my only form of transportation,” said teacher Charles Martin.  “I’m a little nervous about the budget.”

It’s a concern others share, including one woman, retiree Jane Taylor, who said Rauner is being “a bully.”

CTA is the only Chicago-area transit agency that is not seeking to increase fares.  Pace announced last month that it would seek a 25 cent increase in the basic cash fare, and 15 cents for those who pay reduced cash fares.  Metra last week announced plans for a 2 percent increase.

In the budget document, CTA says that it expects to see a modest 0.7 percent increase in overall ridership, a 1.4 percent increase in ridership on its rapid transit lines and flat ridership on its bus routes, which recently have lost riders.  It expects to generate $590.5 million in 2016 at the fare box while providing 518.9 million rides.

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