A Blue Line train towards O’Hare approaches the UIC-Halsted station. CTA has added more runs to the O’Hare branch, in its “plan to reduce crowding” (more commonly called “decrowding plan”), which are short-turned at UIC-Halsted station. Photo by Jeff Zoline.
The 55% of Chicago Transit Authority passengers who use passes will see an increase in their per-trip fare when they buy new passes or reload a Chicago Card Plus today. This is the first fare increase since January 2009. (See the full schedule of fares on CTA’s website.)
My friend Ryan Lakes, an architect, bike polo player, and West Town Bikes volunteer in Humboldt Park, strongly recommended I watch “Taken For A Ride“, a documentary about the systematic dismantling of rail transit in tens of cities nationwide, and the conversion of those routes to diesel buses manufactured by General Motors. I strongly recommend it, too. It was released in 1996, but watching it today shows me how transit history repeats itself.
Sharon Banks, General Manager of AC Transit (at the time)* was interviewed in the film and said, ”It’s called a spiral unto death. You cut back service, you lose passengers, you lose revenue, you lose the confidence of your ridership that you can be effective and meet their needs. This is happening all over the country: over half of the transit operators are needing to either raise fares, cut service, or do both.”
The film, while not focusing one Chicago, motivates one to look up the extent of transit service in Chicago in the 20th century. Many lines are gone. Chicago had streetcars on the same streets as it had elevated trains. Chicago Surface Lines operated an extensive network. The city once had the world’s largest cable car network. If this is part of the “death spiral” that Banks introduces, then the CTA has been moving up and down it for a long time. Recently, though, it has done many things to try and get out, by maximizing all revenue opportunities, upgrading service in some places, and purchasing new vehicles.
In the CTA’s case, both happened. Service was cut on some routes (with some routes being eliminated entirely), while increased on other routes. Ridership has increased year-over-year for several years. The CTA’s 2013 budget recommendations noted that ridership was up 3.9% over the 18 months that Rahm Emanuel has been mayor. The Chicago Tribune today published that Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) expects the fare increase to have a “no ridership growth” impact. While somewhat ambiguous, this leads me to believe that RTA has predicted that the fare increase won’t produce a negative ridership growth.
The same article noted that 3-day passes are still available on Groupon for $9, a large discount from the $14 fare yesterday and the $20 fare today; there are three days left. CTA Tattler has posted some analysis on how monthly pass users can decide if they should switch to a pay-per-use fare.
Bikes are still free to bring onto CTA vehicles. Photo by Chris Brunn.
If you are looking to do something about this, take a look at Grid Chicago’s 12 ideas to moving beyond the shock of CTA fare increases to doing something about it. The CTA is funded mostly by sales taxes, but also by real estate transfer taxes, “gifts” (additional transfers from the sales tax fund) from the RTA and Illinois Department of Transportation (48% + 2%). Additionally, it gains revenue from fares (45%), advertising (2%), bond sales (less than 1%), a measly “donation” from the City of Chicago and County of Cook (excluding in-kind police service) (1%), and “other sources” (2%). In essence, what money the CTA gains is based largely on market forces, ridership, and laws set by the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield. One of those is influenced in part by democratic citizen action.
The CTA board chose in December to defer raising the price of trip leaving O’Hare (from $2.25 to $5) for those passengers with Chicago Card/Plus. Riders with passes were not affected. Those buying transit cards will pay the $5 fare.
Other CTA news
The CTA issued three press releases on Friday, January 10, announcing that it sold two properties (including the Archer bus garage that was decommissioned in 2010) and approved an order for 300 new buses. The CTA has also leased space at the Jefferson Park Blue Line and Roosevelt stations to Butterfield Kitchen, that will be selling fresh, made-to-order meals.
* AC Transit serves Alameda and Contra Costa counties near Oakland, California.
Updated 15:00 to include paragraph about removed transit lines in Chicago and add more insight as to whether or not CTA is in the “death spiral”.
Grid Chicago is a blog about sustainable transportation matters, projects and culture in Chicago and Illinois, by John Greenfield and Steven Vance since June 2011. We switched to writing at Streetsblog Chicago in January 2013.
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