With Tuesday's announcement of a $277 million deficit, the CTA has set the stage for tougher union negotiations and an inevitable fare hike in 2012.
Union contracts expire at the end of this year, and CTA President Forrest Claypool minced no words Tuesday in pinning most of the blame for the deficit on "archaic work rules" and "the highest cost-adjusted rail and bus operator salaries in the nation."
Though Claypool still hasn't formally announced a fare increase for 2012, the hints were stronger than ever in his press release and remarks before the City Club of Chicago. From the release:
"Claypool said it was time to deal with these challenges and make decisions that will fix the CTA’s broken fiscal system.
“We can’t defer the hard decisions any longer. The CTA’s cost structure is too high given the revenues and tax receipts we have to operate it,” Claypool said. “Changes are needed now to shore up the CTA’s fiscal situation. A robust, modern transit system is not just important to transit riders. It is important to the livability of the region and its ability to attract jobs and businesses. An investment in transit is an investment in the future of this region.”
Claypool won't release his budget for "several weeks," thus missing the RTA's deadline for submission. The CTA president caught RTA heat for his tardiness, said a Tribune report.
“It is certainly disheartening that the CTA is late because the RTA needs to take a regional view on how the three transit budgets will affect riders who use multiple transit systems,’’ said Jordan Matyas, RTA deputy executive director. “When you are talking about fare increases, a CTA fare increase could affect a fare increase at Metra.’’
Frankly, I don't understand how the CTA could draw up a final budget without knowing the results of union negotiations.
Thus, the most interesting parts of this budget certainly are still way ahead of us. Hold on to your floor and seat poles, we're in for a wild ride.