Posted by Citizens Taking Action for Transit Dependent Riders


Transit agencies see red ink déjà vu

By Marni Pyke | Daily Herald Staff

Published: 2/24/2009 12:00 AM

Offering free rides for seniors and disabled individuals is costing the CTA, Pace and Metra more than $55 million a year, officials told the Illinois House Mass Transit Committee Monday.

Agency leaders estimated revenue losses in 2009 from the free rides program at about $38 million for the CTA, $15 million for Metra and $3 million for Pace.

The program for seniors was instituted by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in early 2008 as a political trade-off for not blocking a legislature-approved sales tax increase for public transit. The General Assembly later introduced a similar program for low-income disabled individuals.

Agency leaders also addressed funding shortfalls as a result of the flagging economy. The worst hit is the Chicago Transit Authority, which projects revenues will be down by $87 million in 2008 and $155 million this year.

It was about a year ago that the three agencies appeared before the same committee predicting a transit doomsday with layoffs, fare hikes and service cuts if the General Assembly failed to pass the sales tax increase and a real estate transfer tax supplement for the CTA.

State lawmakers approved the measures, but the expected dollars aren't materializing because of the sluggish economy.

CTA officials said they were working with the Regional Transportation Authority to find a way out.

RTA Chairman Jim Reilly explained a short-term solution would be to borrow money, but the catch is the funds would need to be repaid in two years.

Still, Reilly said he was optimistic about making it through 2009 without fare increases or service cuts.

Pace will hold back on suburban bus service expansions to make ends meet, Executive Director T.J. Ross said, adding a $5 million shortfall for paratransit was troublesome.

Low diesel fuel should help Metra weather the storm, Executive Director Phil Pagano said. Fuel is currently costing $1.20 a gallon instead of $4.25 per gallon budgeted by the agency.

There is some good news, Reilly added, in that the three agencies will share at least $410 million from the economic stimulus package for capital projects.

The agencies also took heat from Rep. Luis Arroyo, who criticized them for not having enough minorities in management positions.

Back to Citizens Taking Action