CHICAGO (CBS) — Today is the day that CTA riders learn whether they will have to endure fare hikes and service cuts when the transit agency announces its budget plan for next year.

Time has run out on the CTA’s promise not to raise fares – a two-year agreement with Gov. Pat Quinn reached in late 2009.

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Facing a $277 million budget shortfall and a Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) mandate to avoid using capital improvement funds to pay operating expenses, officials have hinted strongly that fare hikes, service cuts and layoffs will be part of the mix.

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The prospect does not thrill transit activists, who have said that raising fares hits hard at a time when the economy is on the ropes and many are resorting to transit in an attempt to keep expenses as low as possible.

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CTA is the last of the Chicago area’s transit agencies to unveil its 2012 budget.

Metra last week announced fare hikes averaging 25.l percent, with a 29.4 percent increase for the majority of Metra riders who use monthly passes.

Pace has announced that it can hold the line on service and fares, thanks to the infusion of $3 million in RTA discretionary funding; Pace is even contemplating some minor additions to service.

CTA plans three public hearings next week – one at CTA headquarters, one on the West Side and one on the South Side.

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The boards of all three agencies must approve their 2012 budgets next month. The RTA board must approve at its December meeting.