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CTA, Metra Approve Budgets for 2012

Making transit the preferred travel option for as many of the region's residents as possible is one of GO TO 2040's primary recommendations. Public transportation keeps cars off the roads, reduces congestion for everyone who drives, and improves air quality for all. The mobility enabled by transit helps our economy and equality of life, giving people more choices for getting around. However, years of underinvestment have led to aging infrastructure, and transit operators need to make a concerted effort to control costs and improve service efficiency. The 2012 budgets passed by two of our regional transit agencies reflect current financial challenges while attempting to pave way for an improved system.

On November 15, 2011, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) board approved a $1.24 billion budget for 2012. The CTA, like many agencies, is dealing with a major deficit, and its approved budget seeks to balance rising operating costs with insufficient funding. The budget does not include fare hikes, service cuts, or layoffs and is 5.1 percent less than last year. It is projected to reduce the agency's deficit $277 million deficit by $171 million.

The majority of cuts in the proposed budget come from union work rule changes, health care reform, and limits on wage growth, all of which are yet to be negotiated with the CTA rail workers union. Other cuts include nonunion positions and "management belt-tightening," according to the Chicago Tribune. The CTA estimates it would save approximately $80 million in 2012 and $160 million in 2013 under the proposed budget. The current CTA rail workers union contract expires December 31, and while ground rules for negotiations on a collective-bargaining agreement were established this week, no date has been set for actual negotiations.

Pending negotiations with the union, the CTA budget is a positive step for transit in our region. But additional funding is needed to support the regional transit system as a whole. GO TO 2040 advocates providing transit with a portion of revenue from recommended new transportation funding sources, such as implementing congestion pricing on some expressways and increasing the gas tax.

Transit modernization, including technologies that improve system performance and create better user perceptions of transit, is also a crucial to attracting more riders. In addition to approving the CTA budget, the CTA board separately approved a plan to contract with Cubic Transportation for an open fare collection system. The system would allow users to use "contactless" credit, debit, bank, and CTA prepaid cards to board buses and trains and is set to launch in 2014. CTA estimates it will see $50 million in savings over the period of the 12-year agreement.

The Metra Board also approved its 2012 budget on November 11. The new budget includes across-the-board fare increases that will go into effect February 1, 2012. These revenues are necessary following many years of under-investment, as capital budgets have been tapped to make up for operational shortfalls. As shown in a recent Metra presentation, expenses have increased far faster than revenues adn fares have not kept pace with inflation. The 2012 budget includes $686.8 million for operations and a $244.1 million capital program. These investments will enable Metra to modernizing its infrastructure while effectively managing its operating costs.

The charts below show how Metra fares have not kept pace with the rising Consumer Price Index (CPI) over the years.