CTA fare hikes cause unrest

By Kaley Fowler

Public transit customers may soon find themselves paying 16 to 75 percent more for bus and rail passes under the proposed 2013 Chicago Transit Authority budget.

The budget, introduced Nov. 20, would increase the cost of transit passes in an effort to shave $50 million from the CTA’s $165 million deficit.

“These changes put the ‘doomsday’ budgets of the past behind us,” said CTA President Forrest Claypool in a written statement. “We’re moving forward and building a modern CTA on a strong

fiscal footing.”

The base cash fare of $2.25 per train and bus ride would remain unchanged in 2013, while the price of multiride passes would increase significantly. A 30-day pass, now $86, would cost $100; a seven-day pass, now $23, would cost $28; a three-day pass, now $14, would cost $20; and a one-day pass, now $5.75, would cost $10.

While the budget calls for an increase in the price of multi-ride passes, it does not mention the U-Pass program. According to Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs, the CTA has not communicated to Columbia any potential changes to the U-Pass program.

“Every year it seems that transit riders in Chicago get less transit service for their money,” said Brenna Conway, coordinator of the organization Riders for Better Transit. “We are regularly seeing things like service cuts and fare increases that hurt riders.”

In addition to raising the price of multiride passes, the budget would increase fares for elderly and disabled customers. Under federal law, the transit agency is required to offer a reduced fare to these demographics, and the reduced fare for elderly and disabled passengers is currently 85 cents. But the budget proposal calls for this rate to be raised to $1.10 for rail and $1 for bus rides.

Conway said increasing prices to alleviate the deficit only hurts customers who rely on public transportation, but some city officials disagree.

“Basic fares stayed the same, which you cannot say about gas prices,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel during a Nov. 26 press conference. “You as a commuter will pick: You can either drive to work, or you can take public transportation.”

Although driving is an alternative to public transportation, it isn’t an accessible option for low-income residents, said Krista Dutt, city director of the Chicago chapter of Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection, a nationwide faith-based network that provides outreach opportunities in urban communities.

Dutt said many of the low-income residents she works with pay for transportation by the ride and therefore will not be affected by the hikes. However, Dutt said she is worried about her clients who purchase multiride passes to save money.

According to CTA data, multi-ride passes pay for approximately 55 percent of bus and rail rides. Dutt said she thinks this number will decrease if the fare hikes are implemented.

“The passes so far have been a value, but they are no longer a deal,” Dutt said. “This may end up forcing people to take fewer rides to save money.”

The budget announcement comes in the wake of the CTA’s controversial decision to alter several existing bus routes. As reported by The Chronicle Sept. 4, the CTA will alter 48 bus routes and eliminate 12 to save an estimated $16 million. The savings will be used to increase rail service during rush periods as part of a de-crowding initiative that will go into effect Dec. 16.

In light of the upcoming service cuts and looming fare hikes, Riders for Better Transit is urging CTA customers to contact their elected officials to voice opposition to the impending service changes.

“Transit service needs to be improving in the Chicago region, and to make that happen, we need better investment from our elected officials,” Conway said. “Riders need to speak up about their transit needs, and by doing so they can make [those needs] a priority for our elected officials. They have the power to give serious funding to our public transit agencies.”

The CTA will host two public budget meetings in coming weeks to give customers the opportunity to provide input on the budget recommendations. The first meeting will be held Dec. 10 at CTA headquarters, 567 W. Lake St., and the second will take place Dec. 17 at Westinghouse College Prep School, 3223 W. Franklin Blvd.