The Chicago Transit Board today approved a 2006 operating budget of $1.037 billion that maintains existing bus and rail service levels, but sets aside funding for future West Side and West Suburban service enhancements. It also increases cash fares by 25 cents and eliminates cash transfers and Rush Shuttle fares.
In addition, the Board identified capital funds to begin the next phase of planning for extensions to the Orange, Red and Yellow Lines and authorized analyses of service in the South, Southwest and Northwest portions of the CTA service area.
?Although CTA's funding problem has not been resolved, the cash fare increase, cost efficiency initiatives and interim transfer of capital funds to operating will enable the CTA to get through 2006 with a balanced budget and provide time for state officials to work on funding for the region's public transit," said Chicago Transit Board Chairman Carole Brown. ?In addition, the Board has directed staff to provide funding for improvements to our West Side and West Suburban service. We must continue to seek out and support opportunities to improve the service we have, especially when enhancements can increase ridership and improve transit options for the region."
The approved fare increase, which is effective January 1, 2006, will only impact customers who pay with cash or rail customers who use Transit Cards. The base cash fare will increase from $1.75 to $2. The Board also voted to apply the $2 cash fare to Rush Shuttle customers, who currently pay $1 in cash during rush hours on select bus routes that serve Metra stations.
"By shifting away from cash fares, we will speed-up boarding, enhance service and reduce our cash handling costs," said Chairman Brown. ?We decided to eliminate the Rush Shuttle fare based on feedback from customers and other stakeholders who suggested that it is most equitable to have a consistent cash fare throughout the system. Moreover, the Rush Shuttle routes have some of the more congested boarding patterns in the system, making them prime candidates for the faster boarding provided by Chicago Card. It is also in keeping with the RTA's directive to all the service boards to work toward a more universal fare structure."
Fares will not change for customers who use a magnetic strip transit card on the bus system or unlimited ride passes on either bus or rail, and for customers who use either the Chicago Card or Chicago Card Plus on bus and rail. These customers will also continue to be eligible to transfer throughout the CTA system, but cash transfers will no longer be allowed.
"By limiting the fare increase to cash fares and rail customers who use magnetic strip Transit Cards, we are able to shield some of our most price sensitive customers from the increase while still generating about $17 million to offset spiking fuel prices, which continue to put significant pressure on our budget," said CTA President Frank Kruesi. ?There are a number of farecard options for customers who want to avoid a fare increase in 2006. Passes remain one of the best values around because they offer unlimited rides for a set price, and Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus offer faster boarding and fare balance protection."
The Board approved waiving the $5 purchase fee for Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus from December 1, 2005, through March 31, 2006, to make it easier for customers to switch to either electronic farecard option. A previously approved increase in paratransit fares to $3.50 will take effect January 1, 2006. Paratransit service, which is mandated under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, costs CTA approximately $25 per trip.
Over the past year, the Board and management have embarked on an intense and thorough review of CTA operations with an independent team of efficiency experts, AECOM Consult. In 2006, the CTA expects to achieve savings of $4.5 million by implementing several of the initiatives including improved employee productivity, technology enhancements and process improvements.
Since 1997, major efficiency initiatives have helped reverse over a decade-long downward spiral of service cuts, fare increases and lost ridership. Cumulatively, an estimated $1.025 billion has been saved through cost-cutting initiatives. At the same time, service levels and ridership have increased.# # #