RT A turns up the heat on CT Aboard to raise fares

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Re­porter

Much like prop­erty tax in­creases, CTA fare hikes are the third rail of Chicago pol­i­tics. Mayor Rahm Emanuel hasn’t gone near it, though he did raise the cost of some CTA passes.

Now, the Re­gional Trans­porta­tion Au­thor­ity that must ap­prove the CTA bud­get is turn­ing up the heat on the Emanuel- con­trolled CTA board to do the un­think­able for a mayor gear­ing up for what’s ex­pected to be a dif­fi­cult re- elec­tion bid.

In a Nov. 8 let­ter to CTA Pres­i­dent Dor­val Carter Jr., RTA Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Leanne Red­den warns that the pre­lim­i­nary CTA op­er­at­ing bud­get submitted to the RTA Oct. 23 “did not of­fer clearly iden­ti­fi­able and re­li­able rev­enue streams” to close a $ 33 mil­lion bud­get gap.

The short­fall was trig­gered by a state bud­get that in­cludes a per­ma­nent 2 per­cent sales tax sur­charge and a 10 per­cent re­duc­tion in pub­lic trans­porta­tion funds in the next fis­cal year. Red­den also cites slow­ing sales tax growth.

“Over the last few bud­get cy­cles, the RTA Board has ex­pressed con­cerns that, un­like other ma­jor ur­ban tran­sit agen­cies, CTA has not raised its base fare since 2009,” Red­den wrote.

“Fare in­creases, while oner­ous, are the most re­li­able way to gen­er­ate rev­enue and achieve the CTA and re­gional re­cov­ery ra­tios [ re­quir­ing 50 per­cent of rev­enues to come from fares]. As such, the RTA strongly en­cour­ages the CTA to im­ple­ment a fare in­crease for 2018 suf­fi­cient to bring the pre­lim­i­nary op­er­at­ing bud­get into bal­ance.” Red­den noted that Emanuel plans to raise ride- hail­ing fees — by 15 cents a ride next year and an­other nickel in 2019 — to bankroll $ 180 mil­lion in CTA cap­i­tal im­prove­ments. The fee is ex­pected to gen­er­ate $ 16 mil­lion the first year and $ 21 mil­lion the sec­ond.

But, she wrote: “Be­cause it is a new rev­enue source, it­may not gen­er­ate suf­fi­cient rev­enue to re­solve CTA’s bud­get gap.”

Red­den closed with a warn­ing about the mass tran­sit equiv­a­lent of the “nu­clear op­tion” — with­hold­ing 25 per­cent of the CTA’s op­er­at­ing fund­ing if the CTA fails to present a bud­get that meets the state- man­dated re­cov­ery ra­tio.

“This equates to an an­nual re­duc­tion of ap­prox­i­mately $ 360 mil­lion of re­gional tran­sit fund­ing, re­sult­ing in im­me­di­ate ser­vice dis­rup­tions. None of us want to go down that path,” Red­den wrote.

Emanuel’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor Adam Collins is­sued an emailed state­ment in re­sponse to the RTA pres­sure. It ruled out ser­vice cuts but left the door open to a fare hike.

CTA spokesman Brian Steele said fare hikes and ser­vice cuts are “op­tions of last re­sort” and the CTA is “look­ing at ev­ery al­ter­na­tive” be­fore fi­nal­iz­ing its 2018 bud­get.

Ear­lier this week, Chicago al­der­men ap­plied their own pres­sure for a CTA fare hike while push­ing back hard against the idea of giv­ing the CTA a “blank check” with­out over­sight.

CTA chief of staff Sylvia Gomez as­sured them that fare hikes, ser­vice cuts or a com­bi­na­tion of the two were “on the ta­ble” to close the $ 33 mil­lion gap.

Dor­val Carter Jr.

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