TRANSIT: Chicago Transit Authority proposes budget that hedges bet on governor’s position

Oct. 22, 2015

Fares will remain stagnant for third straight year—provided Rauner reverses his pledge to cut funding by 50%

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has proposed a $1.47 billion operating budget for 2016 that maintains level fare prices for the third straight year and pays for two new rush-hour express bus routes, despite projecting a paper-thin growth in ridership.

The success of this budget, however, hinges in large measure on the state coming through with some serious dollars. Governor Rauner and lawmakers in Springfield have not agreed on a 2016 budget, and at present the state owes the CTA $221 million in capital-improvement funding that was expected in 2015, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The CTA’s spending plan hinges on the assumption that the Rauner administration will roll back a recent 50% cut in transit subsidies that help make up some of the cost of providing free- and- reduced-fare rides to disabled and low-income commuters.

"Significantly, the budget assumes the historic formulas for state funding to support CTA operations," the budget book said, adding that nearly 20% of the CTA's operating budget comes from the state. "Any reduction in state funding to the CTA would negatively impact the Authority."

The CTA budget also anticipates that CTA wages will not increase next year. The current labor contract with the CTA's bus and rail unions expires at the end of this year. CTA fares and passes are expected to generate $590.5 million next year, according to the budget. The CTA predicts that overall ridership in 2016 will be slightly better than flat, rising 0.7%, to 518.9 million rides, and that a recent annual decline in bus ridership will end, yet yield no bus ridership gains in 2016.