Moving beyond the shock of CTA fare increases to doing something about it


Drive? Drive! Photo by Dan O’Neill. 

I’m not going to try to make sense of the pending Chicago Transit Authority fare increases, why they’re necessary, or of Rahm’s insensitive remarks on Monday that he clarified yesterday. There are already great responses on these matters:

You will have to figure out for yourself if it’s still worth it to buy single or multi-day passes. Need a primer on what’s proposed to change? Check out the CTA’s FAQ (.pdf). The fare increases will be voted on by the CTA board on December 18, 2012, at 2:30 PM, and the increases would take effect January 14, 2013.

I’m going to try and inspire you to take action and give you some tools that may help lessen the impact on your household’s finances. Here are 12 ideas.

1. Illinois legislators control the CTA so you have to tell them how you feel about fare increases and transportation subsidy policies. They decide how much financial assistance transit agencies will get. Tell them which way you tend to vote. You can find their contact info on the Riders for Better Transit website.

2. There are pre-tax benefits available at supportive workplaces. Money is removed from your paycheck to purchase a cash transit card or a monthly pass before taxes are calculated. You can save hundreds of dollars per year. This applies to Metra and Pace riders, too. You cannot get this benefit individually: your employer most offer it. If they don’t, give your boss or HR manager this information. Learn more at

If you get pushback, educate your coworkers or contact Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) and Riders for Better Transit to see if they can help you reach out to company executives.

3. The mayor of Chicago and the governor of Illinois appoint four and three members to the CTA board, respectively. Direct your attention to those two.

4. The budget recommendations for the following budget year (2013) are created by CTA president Forrest Claypool and his staff and then presented to the appointed board members for their approval. If I kept better track of the board’s activity I could tell you if they’ve ever told the CTA president to revise the budget recommendations. You can speak to the board at two public meetings in December:

6 PM, Monday, December 10
CTA Headquarters
567 W. Lake St. – 2nd Floor
Chicago, IL 60661

6 PM, Monday, December 17
Westinghouse College Prep
3223 W. Franklin Blvd. – Auditorium
Chicago, IL 60624

Submit your input in other mediums: Gregory P. Longhini, Assistant Secretary of the Board, Chicago Transit Authority, 567 W. Lake Street, Chicago, Illinois 60661.

5. Aldermen, village trustees, and other elected officials of nearby municipalities don’t have influence over the CTA except to advise where bus stop shelters should go. But they can act as advocates for you, their residents, and for others, voters.


Is there a shining light in this messy situation we call transit funding in Chicago? Photo by Rebecca Sims.

6. There are discounts for certain passengers based on age (children, grade and high school students, and senior citizens), Medicare, disabilities, and military status. Apply for one if you haven’t already (these programs costs CTA a lot of money that the state doesn’t reimburse them for, any longer).

7. Pace has vanpool program and carpool matching website. Check them out. Van share means you either drive or ride in a van; passengers pay “a low monthly fare based on distance and number of participants”.

8. Stock up on passes. They expire in 1 year from date of purchase. Or start a secondhand market and sell the passes for half the increase amount (this might be illegal).

9. The price of the U-PASS will likely increase. Unfortunately I don’t know who is responsible for negotiating with the CTA its price (the price is different for each college and university).


The CTA is fixing buses, buying new trains, repairing slow zones and stations, cutting costs, and making deals with labor unions. It’s not always their fault CTA raises fares. Perhaps it can be done less dramatically and sooner than every 4 years. 

10. Tell your representatives in Congress (you’ve got 3) that the pre-tax benefit (described in item 6) for transit users should be equal to the pre-tax benefit for people who park at work. The pre-tax benefit for people who park is up to $240 per month, but only $125 for people who ride transit! This covers the most expensive pass for CTA, but not for Metra riders, whose monthly pass costs approach $200. Metropolitan Planning Council has more details on the history of this disparity.

11. Get your workplace into MPC’s Commute Options program.

12. If you drive LESS, there’s something in it for you: sign up for the Drive Less, Live More challenge that rewards people who self-report sustainable commutes with monthly prize drawings.

What are you going to do about the CTA fare increases? Change your travel habits, contact an elected official, or drive?

See other Take Action posts.

15 thoughts on “Moving beyond the shock of CTA fare increases to doing something about it”

  1. I think the most glaring omission on the “list of things you can do” is for everyone to take a look at their actual usage. I think the CTA is overestimating the amount of “dumb consumers” that will continue to purchase monthly passes when pay-per-use is now a better option for, what I would assume to be, the majority of transit riders.

  2. Fare increases are a regressive form of taxation. Fare increases and service cuts directly reduce the standard of living of working people. We need to be clear: these policies are examples of austerity—making working class people pay the bill for an economic crisis they didn’t cause. When discussing what to do, we need to recognize the broader political context here. This isn’t just a problem in Chicago. The conservative politics of austerity is a problem working people are facing in every single major industrial country right now. We should look at what others—esp. those in Southern Europe—are doing to resist the policy of cutting back on our standard of living to pay for a crisis caused by the very folks who got big bailouts in their moment of need. It’s worth listening to what people in Europe are doing and saying about austerity, we can learn from them:

    1. This particular instance of fare increases surely falls under a period of “global austerity cuts and protests” but this is just a regular pattern for CTA and transit in Chicagoland since at least the 1980s.
      Instead of “shock increases” and service cuts every 4 years, I think we should move to an annual “fare check” to see if prices should go up. The U-PASS is the only fare product that does this, changing prices every year (maybe even every semester).

    2. If the feds would provide more money for transit, then these huge fare hikes wouldn’t be necessary. These working-class people you speak of are still paying to ride the train. Things eventually get more expensive as time goes on – that’s called inflation. Fare hikes have to happen sometimes, but they can be less drastic with better federal funding.

      1. I don’t think we should be relying on the federal government to pay for transit. A majority of CTA’s capital expenditures already comes from the federal government.
        This is a local issue that we can solve locally.

        The only thing Congress in D.C. should change immediately is the disparity between the transit and parking pre-tax benefits. (That affects New York commuters even more as their monthly passes are much higher and there are more people using those higher fares.)

  3. The pre-tax benefit for people who park is up to $240 per month, but
    only $125 for people who ride transit! This covers the most expensive
    pass for CTA, but not for Metra riders, whose monthly pass costs
    approach $200.

    For those who aren’t regular Metra riders, the current monthly cost for a Zone C pass is $121. This covers the entire city of Chicago and some of the inner ring suburbs (Evanston, Oak Park, Riverside, etc.). To give an example, this means that commuters from Highland Park, Arlington Heights, Downers Grove, or Homewood (all in Zone E) could potentially get a pre-tax benefit on their entire parking cost, but would only get that pre-tax benefit on $125 out of a $149.50 Metra pass. If someone was commuting from as far out as Kenosha ($235), Aurora or Joliet ($192.25), or Harvard ($263.50!), that gap between pre-tax benefit and commute cost hurts.

    It could become a disincentive to urban sprawl, but cutting off the pre-tax benefit at Zone C effectively penalizes people for choosing sustainable transportation from relatively close suburbs.

    1. There was a 2 year period where the parking and transit pre-tax benefits had parity, starting with ARRA stimulus in 2009 and ending in 2011 (I believe). They were both $230 in this time period. Then, after expiration of that 2 year period, transit dropped to $125 (where it was $120 prior) and parking went up from $230 to $240. How’s that for fairness and good policy?

  4. If the Mayor were to focus on cleaning up crime, drugs and gangs, this would lead to more people living and investing in the city. As of now, maybe 50% of the city is actually livable. If
    neighborhoods on the South and West sides were as pleasant as the North and
    North west sides, people could actually get from underneath each other, spread
    out and open businesses throughout the rest of the city. This would also keep
    people from leaving and make more people want to move to Chicago.

    My point being is there are other
    ways to generate income for city services other than constantly raising fees
    and gouging the citizens of Chicago. It’s actually called managing the city.
    It’s not always about inflation. Of course there will always be inflation but
    these problems go back to our elected officials not having their priorities in

  5. The increase to the 1-, 3-, and 7-day passes will, I think, increase usage of Chicago’s new bike sharing among visitors who may have otherwise opted for one of these CTA passes over a bike sharing temporary pass.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *