The second CTA fare hike in five years and a controversial plan that eliminates at least a dozen bus routes to free up money to add service on more crowded buses and trains were the focus of a public hearing Monday night on the CTA’s proposed 2013 budget.
The overwhelming majority of the 191 people who attended, amid tighter than usual security at CTA headquarters, wore yellow T-shirts calling on the CTA board to reverse its earlier decision to shorten the No. 11 Lincoln/Sedgwick bus route.
Pleas and demands to save the No. 11 bus route dominated the testimony. The No. 11 route is being cut between Western and Fullerton avenues as part of a $16 million crowding-reduction plan that is slated to take effect Sunday.
Allan Mellis, a community activist in Lincoln Square, asked the CTA board to amend next year’s budget to find funds to restore the No. 11, which provides 5,800 rides on an average weekday, according to the CTA.
Ald. Ameya Pawar, whose 47th ward would lose a chunk of the No. 11 route, asked for time to work out a solution, including the possibility of using excess TIF funds from his ward. The CTA should not “fix a fiscal issue only to create a social problem” in terms of the toll the loss of No. 11 service would have on senior citizens and people living on fixed incomes, Pawar said.
The $1.39 billion CTA budget for next year erases a projected deficit by raising fares a total of $56 million and introducing $60 million in savings from labor unions and more than $50 million in management cuts and reforms, officials said.
But the price of one-day, three-day, seven-day and 30-day passes will increase effective Jan. 14 under the plan, while the full base fare will be frozen at $2.25 on the rail system and $2 on buses if transit cards are used to pay fares, or $2.25 for cash bus fares.
Reduced fares and passes for senior citizens and disabled people will also increase, and reduced fares for students will decline by 10 cents.
In addition, it will cost $5 instead of $2.25 to ride the Blue Line from O'Hare International Airport if a pass is not used.
No major service cuts or CTA employee layoffs will be needed to balance the budget, officials said.
CTA President Forrest Claypool said the changes in next year’s budget deliver fiscal stability to the agency’s operating budget and prevent the need for more fare increases over perhaps a decade.
The CTA, however, faces an estimated $15.9 billion backlog in major capital improvements to bring stations, tracks, viaducts and other infrastructure as well as buses and trains to a state of good repair over the next 10 years, according to a study commissioned by the Regional Transportation Authority.
A crowding-reduction initiative that is scheduled to begin Sunday will cancel 12 bus routes and shorten two others. In addition, nine privately contracted CTA routes would be eliminated if subsidies provided by businesses aren't increased, officials said.
More service will be added to 48 bus routes and six of the eight rail lines with the goal of speeding travel times and making the ride more comfortable by reducing crowding by 10 percent to 15 percent during rush periods, according to the transit agency.
At Monday’s meeting, William Scott, a retired teacher who lives in Drexel Square, said other bus routes besides No. 11 suffer from serious problems too. He said it's difficult to find a seat on the No. 4 Cottage Grove bus.
Claypool responded that service will be added on the No. 4 under the de-crowding plan.
Neither Claypool nor CTA board Chairman Terry Peterson spoke about the possibility of altering the budget or the de-crowding plan.
Other people who testified complained about the CTA plan to more than double the fare, to $5, for trips beginning at O'Hare on the Blue Line.
Marge Demora, who works for United Airlines at the airport, said “it’s discrimination to single out O'Hare fares.” She said workers at restaurants and other jobs that pay minimum wages at the airport will be the hardest hit.
On buses that typically carry 70 passengers, the new target will be 45 to 55 passengers per bus, CTA officials said. Rail cars packed with 90 or more riders at maximum capacity are expected to have 70 to 75 passengers, officials said.
CTA officials said service will be increased on bus and rail routes used by 76 percent of the CTA’s total ridership.
But the bus service cuts, which the CTA board has already approved, have sparked vocal protests from some riders, particularly those who are rallying to save the No. 145 Wilson/Michigan Express and the No. 11 Lincoln/Sedgwick bus route, which is slated to stop operating between Western and Fullerton. CTA officials said the No. 11 service is redundant with the Brown Line between Fullerton and Western. A new route, the No. 37 Sedgwick, will be created.