To the CTA: Raise fares to fund rail expansion, major rehab

The CTA should raise fares by a quarter next year – and keep doing it till they have funded all their capital needs.

Just as Metra is doing.

As long as we continue to have a paralyzed, do-nothing federal government, it will be impossible to get the kind of funding from the Feds that the CTA needs to bring the rail system into the 21st Century.

So get the money from those who will benefit the most from those improvements – CTA riders.

Metra is raising fares about 11 percent. If the CTA imposed a similar increase next year, it would amount to about 25 cents. According to a Metra news release:

A portion of the fare increase will be used to cover debt service on a bond issue of $100 million, which would be the first in Metra history, or similar financing.  The financing, combined with additional financing proposed for future years, will be used to help fund a $2.4 billion modernization plan that was also announced today. The rest of the fare increase will be used primarily to cover a growth in expenses, outlined below.

The CTA has two huge expansion projects on the boards: the Red Line Extension south from 95th Street to 130th Street, and the Red and Purple Modernization project. The latter probably will cost about $4 billion. I couldn’t find an estimated cost for the Red Line south extension, but it certainly exceeds $1 billion.

So that’s $5 billion. That the CTA doesn’t have.

So riders, if you want a first class transit system, we have to pay for it.

Pony up, riders. And listen up, CTA.

Raise fares.

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  • The real issue isn't paying for nonexistent extensions, but just to keep the system from collapsing.

    As usual, CTA doesn't feel any compulsion to get out its "President's Budget Recommendations" on time, but if one looks at the Pace budget, the RTA is becoming stricter on unfunded capital needs and the effect of capital expenditures on operating expenses.

    The proposed 2015 Pace budget indicates on page 35 that while Pace has a 10 year requirement of $2.2 billion to get to a state of good repair and is 3 years behind, Metra has a $9.8 billion requirement and CTA has a $21.5 billion requirement, and $13 billion of the backlog already exists. While all 3 service boards have bonding power, Metra and Pace do not have outstanding bonds, but one can look at the back of the last CTA budget to see how much is pledged to sales tax revenue fund bonds, equipment leases, and other funny financing. If you remember, the last couple of CTA budgets were held up by the RTA over doubt about meeting current debt. Hence there will have to be massive fare increases just to meet state of good repair needs.

    The other thing noted in the budget is don't count on state money, because Governor Windbag's program has been exhausted. There was the "Jump Start" bond that was promised from 2009-2014, but no longer.

    But (like Tony Preckwinkle's county budget) I bet the strategy is to hold things through the 2015 elections, and then the you know what hits the fan.

  • In reply to jack:

    This just in:,0,4262002.story

  • I'm not holding my breath, but hopefully they learned their lesson, and will actually, quote, test, test, test. The poor wireless signal in the subways will certainly make it more difficult. However, they don't seem to commit to a date for phase 2, so I'm guessing they'll wait until 4G is deployed to the subway before proceeding.

  • The impression I got from the Metra minutes is that Metra got this from NICTD and was showing it to CTA, not that Metra was capitulating to CTA.

    I guess it is easier to show a conductor a smart phone screen that says you have paid from Zone D to Zone A than have that on an RFID card. No indication that Metra has signed onto any RFID card model.

    The hedging on CTA and Pace's part is while a credit card app (such as Google Wallet) will interact with Ventra, you get charged cash fares. There actually has to be a Ventra app to be charged to a transit account, but I can't see how that function is so complicated to program.

    The other two, somewhat contradictory, items in today's Tribune are the repeated anecdotes that Metra conductors don't collect all fares, and an FRA audit that Metra conductors should be more concerned about safety than collecting fares.

    Finally, I just got a renewed Chase card, and it doesn't have a "blink" symbol, so I guess Chase no longer wants to be bothered by Ventra.

  • fb_avatar

    How to overcome opposition that will certainly come, from groups who see the CTA as primarily a social service? What we are asking for here is to improve the CTA as a public service. The emphasis here is that increasing riders of choice is our goal.

  • In reply to Seth:

    Blago permanently poisoned that well by giving out free rides in 2008, only some of which have been rescinded.

    It looks like Emanuel wants to achieve your goal by making driving either a car or taxi impossible, by striping roads down to one lane, fraudulent use of red light cameras, raising parking taxes, not giving taxi drivers a fare increase, and similar measures.

    Remember last time he ran on "no CTA fare increase," but then backed down and said that only meant the $2.25 fare, and raised all others.

  • In reply to jack:

    Why would cabs want a fare increase? They're not even competitive at today's rates versus Uber.

  • In reply to chris:

    The essential question is why Emanuel continues to overregulate cabs while letting Uber off the hook, especially with regard to fares.

    I don't necessarily believe that eastern European and Ethiopian cab drivers are working 16 hours a day for nothing, but there certainly is an equal protection violation here.

    Maybe cabs should be deregulated like Uber, and let the market set the fares.

  • If they need to raise fares to actually provide better service, so be it.

    BUT if it's (MUCH more likely) to put-money-into-pockets-for-pork, than it's much like "The Emporer's New Clothes" story line.

    The Red Line Extension is now up to 4 Billion dollars (like a $400 Hot Dog), while the Gray Line Project would cost One Tenth of that to implement, and it would cover a hugely broader area of the South Side, but Chicago "Politics" keep that vision Far Away:

    And for 4 Billion Dollars, the Red Line Extension obviously cannot possibly provide any type of service to the Museum Campus area:

  • You really need to change your handle to Don Quixote.
    Your incessant bleatings about the never to be built Gray Line have gotten really tiresome.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    The only thing I can say about that is that Governor Gasbag hasn't said anything about the Fitzgerald Task Force since Forrest said (with Rahm's lips moving) it was dead. I also noted that Mike did submit something to it.

    If anyone cares about transit, remember that in the voting booth.

  • You are exactly right about Don Quixote Mr. Scooter -- I just love how the citizens of Chicago don't mind being boofed in it, with no grease.

    AND like Don Quixote Mr. Scooter, I will never stop!

    Peace out dude :-)

  • What Are Y O U doing for YOUR Community Scooter (or A N Y Community -- besides beetchin' ), please post a link.....

  • Getting desperate, so you attack me.
    I do my bit, I just don't waste my time on projects that will never happen.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    You attack me Scooter: "incessant bleatings", what do you expect.

    And I call myself Don Quixote all the time. Also a small Brown Ant trying to get two H U G E herds of Elephants to do exactly what I command them to do. (Ridiculous).

  • 'Couldn't agree more. I never understood why it's the federal governments job to pay for mass transit. Since it benefits the city, the riders, and the city dwellers should pony up. I have absolutely no problem with raising fares. Ever try driving to work? They could charge $4 a trip, and it would still be a bargain.

    Of course, as Seth points out, you have to overcome the opposition from some groups that think the service should be free. I wouldn't be totally against subsidies to the help the poor.

    I believe they should consider peak time prices, i.e. charging more during the rush periods.

    Lastly, how do we ensure the money doesn't get wasted on never-ending consulting studies? Any fare increase has got to go towards capital improvement. At the top of my list is the purchase of additional train sets to allow for more frequent service during peak travel times. I'm getting really tired of squeezing myself into a car with inches to spare.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    The origin was sort of the converse. In the 1970s, during the first gas shortage scare, federal money was given to transit to provide an alternative. In the 1980s, Congress (starting to be dominated by small state representatives) essentially said "why should we subsidize Boston's 25 cent fare?" and cut out operating assistance except for CMAQ and JARC. At that time, though, nobody thought about cutting capital (maybe because that created construction jobs). Hence it was assumed that the feds would pay for capital and the locals would pay for operating.

    The change was in the mid 2000s, when apparently the motor fuel tax fund ran dry and recent Congresses have been less willing to fund something that would increase the deficit even more.

    I agree with you that the consultant grants are essentially a fraud by the federal government to cover up that the motor fuel tax fund is empty. Note that all Rahm is hoping for is the Red Line extension, not the other 3 CTA new starts (Orange, Yellow, and Circle), and most other transit agencies acknowledge that New Starts is dead (i.e. Metra STAR line, NICTD West Lake, and Wisconsin Kenosha-Racine-Wisconsin).

  • In reply to jack:

    Congress should get off their collective asses and increase the gas tax. The thing was never indexed for inflation, so it's no surprise that the fund is empty. Again, I have no problem paying taxes to improve roads/transit, as they are the life blood of the economy. Imagine how many construction jobs could be created if they increased the fuel tax, and used the money to fix the crumbling bridges, roads, and expand regional rail.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    I suppose, but running on a tax increase usually doesn't work, at least for the small state representatives.

    The argument could be made that whatever is keeping gasoline at $3.00 instead of the predicted $7.00 allows some room for an increase. For instance, I haven't recently seen the stickers on the pump that 34 cents of the price goes to taxes.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Increasing the gas tax is certainly a common sense solution, but it seems that is just as empty as the fund.

    I think it's funny how sensitive people are to even a 1 cent increase per gallon. An annual increase of 1 cent per gallon nation wide would be a huge boon for construction, while people at the pump would barely notice. Probably the same reason people drive much further to save 2 cents per gallon, not realizing they just burned that savings by driving further out of the way.

  • In reply to chris:

    The basic problem is that the tax was implemented as a fixed amount, and not a percentage. On top of that, it was never indexed to inflation.

    Sure, there might be some initial grumbling, but I think people will accept it if they see some concrete evidence that the money is actually being spent on improving the transportation infrastructure (pun intended). This probably means that you can't raise it a few pennies, as the revenue generated would be peanuts. To make a real impact, the tax has got to be raised significantly, with a clear plan for major capital improvements. By significantly, I'm talking $0.50 to $1.00 a gallon.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    There is also the problem that with hybrids and electric cars, they have to come up with something else to fund road repairs, because with gasoline consumption down and mandated EPA fuel economy increases, a tax based on gallonage is only going to become less productive.

    I don't know if drivers are going to tolerate something like Flo's Progressive plugin to measure miles traveled and base the tax on that, but it looks like that's direction it is going. Oregon is already doing something like that.

  • In reply to jack:

    If a national internet tax was instituted it should go toward firming up the nations pawer grid and for existing interstate/freight/NHS infrastructure (lock-boxed away from transit/bike paws) . Of course the potential revenue would be fleeting since the personal freight carriers (UPS/Fedex) would move to drone.

  • In reply to urbanleftbehind:

    1. Congress's consistent policy has been that the Internet is not to be taxed. Also, you probably are assuming taxing ISPs, since there would be the issue of how you differentiate cell phone use between Internet, voice and SMS,

    2. Comm Ed already got a rate increase for the smart grid.

    3. This sounds like the usual Illinois tactic of tax something for something else, the most egregious one being that license plate stickers went up $1 to pay for state parks, except RV plates did not go up. Does anyone believe that RV owners don't use state parks?

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    There is no conceivable way that gas tax will be raised by $0.50 to $1.00 a gallon.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Increasing prices during peak times is a poor idea, unless they plan on running trains on intervals like the London Tube. Increasing the fare across the board is not a bad idea however if it gets properly.

  • In reply to chris:

    I guess the devil is in the details. If they use the peak fare increase to fund the purchase of additional trainsets, then it makes sense. If they use the additional funds for other stuff, then you're right.

  • Kevin do you regret supporting obama now?

  • In reply to ibilldavis:

    Huh? What on Earth does this have to do with Obama? Both parties in Congress have failed to show any leadership in matters of transportation. Sh*t is crumbling, and they both point fingers across the aisle.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    Is your name Kevin?

  • In reply to ibilldavis:

    It's a question not even worth answering.

  • In reply to ibilldavis:

    Thanks for contributing to the conversation. Your comments really stand out....

  • In reply to ibilldavis:

    What does Obama have to do with this? Congress has to appropriate money. The House doesn't allow anything on the floor under the Boehner Rule unless he gets all of the Tea Party to agree. Hence, Congress does nothing.

    Also, you could capitalize the President's name, as well as tell us what Romney's transit program was.

  • In reply to jack:

    Is your name Kevin?

  • In reply to jack:

    EVERYTHING is Obama's fault didn't you know jack? -- He caused the extinction of the Dinosaurs, the Fall of the Roman Empire, and the Holocaust. And not capitalizing his name is to show that hood-rats don't have to be respected by regular people.

  • The thing that surprises me is that some former $30.00/hour public employee* is a member of the Tea Party. And about as loose with the facts. If it weren't for Obama and the ARRA, CTA wouldn't have received 58 buses, fixes for the Dearborn Subway and Chinatown station, and 2 electric buses.

    But maybe he just wants to needle the moderator without a factual basis for doing so, which does not hit me as a good strategy.

    *He was in the salary spreadsheet, but not on the current one.

  • In reply to jack:

    Willie L Davis?

    He wants the government to get their damn hands off public transportation!

  • In reply to chris:

    No. "I" actually was the initial of his first name; it didn't stand for "me" or "internet." Like I said, it wasn't on the latest spreadsheet.

  • Instead of just raising fares across the board, the CTA should start implementing a distance base fare when it comes to rail service. This is done in other cities so it can be done on the CTA. The technology is already out there and the CTA has the turn-styles in place.

  • In reply to Richard S.:

    Maybe you ought to explain how the other cities do it, including if and how they enforce it on a grid bus system. Tap in and out is not going to work in Chicago unless there is something like that you will be charged $8.00 for a ride if you don't tap out, and then the Ventra hell will be moderate by comparison once people find out what they were charged.

  • In reply to jack:

    It is obvious you didn't read my post because I said RAIL not bus. Do you not know the difference between rail service and bus service?

  • In reply to Richard S.:

    Since about 1936, CTA and its predecessors have had a universal transfer and fare policy between surface and rapid transit.

    So, I did read your post. Apparently, you aren't familiar with CTA, though.

    Maybe you can sell you tech idea to Metra, which has a zone based fare system and a collection system out of the 1870s.

    In the meantime, you have to deal with universal transfers if someone has a Ventra card with transit value or a pass on it. How does your system work with a $100 monthly pass.

    You still haven't explained to Norman or me how your system is supposed to work. Why don't you try?

  • In reply to Richard S.:

    I don't see how with could be done without significant construction at the stations. Many stations with exit turnstiles already have massive lines to exit when the rush hour trains discharge, e.g. Washington and Wells. Now stick a slow-as-molasses Ventra reader on the turnstile, and you'd have riots. You would have to install 3 to 4 exit turnstiles at each end of the platform.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    How is this any different than waiting to enter a train station during rush hour or board a bus? What construction is needed?

  • In reply to Richard S.:

    Basically, it's queuing theory. With train intervals of 5 minutes, the arrival rate of riders is spread out over the 5 minutes (assuming uniform distribution). However, when a train discharges, you dump dozens, if not hundreds, of riders on the platform in a very short time.

  • In reply to Richard S.:

    One variant of that would be to ratchet up the CTA fares to the Metra scale based not so much on distance but on service type:

    1. Non-CBD Zone - Bus routes that do not cross Ashland, 2600 S, or Fullerton Ave (these street limits are negotiable) - would be .25 cents less than the Metra A-A zone fare. This would be the "social service" nod to "hood" areas.

    2. Buses routes with origin or destination to in CBD as defined in #1 would be same as Metra A-A fare. Would include express routes unless they are "special ART or BRT".

    3. Rapid Transit and "-RT" buses = Metra A - B fare.

  • In reply to urbanleftbehind:

    The main problem with this is that most short bus routes have been eliminated. Pretty much each east-west route crosses the full width of the city at that point.

    For instance, if you assume that Madison is the west side hood, the bus goes into downtown. Similarly, 3, 4, and 28 eventually get downtown although they provide the main service to the south side.

    The only routes that would benefit from this would be in Rogers Park and Jefferson Park. I don't think that's what you meant by the hood. Maybe it benefits something like 106, but its only purpose is to feed the Red Line.

  • In reply to jack:

    Uh, there's still the classic long-haul plebe routes like the 63, 79, 87, 55 (unless you would include Midway and MSI as "CBD"), 53/53 A & B, 52/52 A & B, Irving, Montrose, Lawrence, Peterson et al. I acknowledge that the pricing under my plan would be "inverted" (providing stop to stop service in sketchy areas at sub-30 minute intervals should command a premium not a discount), but the sell would be an infusion of funds for nuts, bolts, wheels, rails, and seats infrastructure

  • In reply to urbanleftbehind:

    Like Ventra, the question comes down to whether the increased cost of collecting the fares is worth what it would derive; especially with most fares being collected as passes. Somehow you would have to establish different passes for the different buses, no different than there having to be separate CTA and CTA/Pace 7 day passes.

    CTA once had express surcharges for boarding buses such as 6 and 147 downtown, but eliminated them about the time that it went to card media.

    Your last post said something about "east of Ashland," which encompasses those E-W routes. Even if you meant that the route "traverses the box defined as Ashland, Roosevelt, and North Ave." a lot of local service would still be impacted

    Basically, the only way the $5.00 fare at O'Hare for Ventra cash value could be implemented is that there is no other public transit means to downtown, and, as usual, it was said that it was only imposed on tourists (since O'Hare employees got special CTA passes).

  • In reply to Richard S.:

    CTA rail was never designed for zoned fares. CTA has always been a PAYE system [Pay As You Enter], except for the years when there was a surcharge for Evanston, Skokie & for some silly reason, the last stop on the Lake St. L , past Harlem to Forest Park, when it ran at grade.
    The only zoned systems in this country are DC & San Francisco's BART. Both of these have huge exit areas with many, many turnstiles.
    As both Jack & Spiny Norman wrote earlier, it just can't work here, ever!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    The entrances/exits in DC are not as huge as you think. The platform areas are much larger in DC. There are some stations with 6 turnstyles. How is that any different than the ones here in Chicago?

    Cleveland also has a system where you pay before you board and use the fair card to exit the system.

  • In reply to Richard S.:

    BTW, Richard, Turnstyle was a Jewel department store that now is a vacant lot.

  • In reply to Richard S.:

    There's a *big* difference. Practically every DC station has multiple exits with multiple turnstiles. The vast majority of CTA stations have single, cramped exits. For example, the Damen Blue Line station has what, 3 or 4 turnstiles for the entire station? 'Same with the California and Chicago/Milwaukee stations.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    I was about to point that out. The DC Metro was built starting in the late 1960s with cathedral type stations in the inner city. Most of CTA was built in the 1890s, and even the Blue Line renovations appear to be to 1890s standards, and certainly clearances.

    Also, it appears that Metro and Metrobus fares are not integrated, while CTA ones certainly are.

  • In reply to Richard S.:

    We have turnstiles, but not enough turnstiles. Places that have this have large rows of them. Many stations have 3-5 turnstiles which won't work very well.

  • In reply to chris:

    That;s the kicker. Sure, I guess some stations could be modified to add additional exits, but boy, some would be a real nightmare. For example, the Chicago/Milwaukee Blue Line station doesn't have enough turnstiles to deal with the existing riders, and the limited space would make adding additional ones almost impossible without major reconstruction.

  • 'Most active thread in ages, Kevin. Well done! :-)

    I'm a bit surprised that nobody opposed the idea of a rate increase. I believe the vast majority of us are tired of being jammed into packed trains and buses like sardines. Add poorly functioning Heating/Cooling systems, and the commute from hell begins. 'Not sure how we can expect to have a world-class public transportation system on a shoestring budget.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    1. Still not as many comments as the Chicago Political Commentary where Joe Moore interjected himself and got his behind whipped.

    2. On your "I'm a bit surprised" I am also surprised that we didn't get the usual comments about "drivers don't pay anything" and "how would some Congressman [leaving out "from Montana"] feel about being stuck in traffic." Maybe transit riders now realize that no one is going to give them a gift.

  • In reply to jack:

    ." Maybe transit riders now realize that no one is going to give them a gift"

    I suppose if you are on the transit side of the bargaining table - one trump card to play in exchange for a robust increase in the federal motorfuel tax would be eliminating Section 132f/Commuter Choice. That way a non-urban congressman can say now those City Slickers are paying a full freight. It befuddles me that so much energy in negotiating an omnibus transportation bill is expended on expanding that particular benefit to its Stimulus amount of 230/month.

  • In reply to urbanleftbehind:

    That's only a tax break, while I was referring to getting a ride and paying maybe 30% of the cost for it. So, your $230 is actually worth about $760 in the cost of generating that much transportation (between operating and capital subsidies).

  • I still have a hard time grasping why we should pay a ton for that extension to 130th when we could put in a full-on BRT to service the same points for a fraction of the cost. You could even put in the boarding stations exactly where the trains would have been, use the same right-of-way space and, if it's in the middle of the Dan Ryan like the rest of that part of the red line, you wouldn't even have to deal with signal priority. The only real issue would be capacity (and maybe getting them turned around) but the great thing about putting in a short bus line is that frequency could be more easily adjusted for demand. Make them every 2 or 3 minutes during the rushes and pull them back to every 15 in the middle of the day. Extending the train line would slow down everyone's travel all day long, cost much much more, and take much much longer to complete.

  • In reply to Myshkin:

    Though I do want to make it clear that I support a fare increase for improvements. I just think we could and should get more tangible benefit with the money.

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