CTA budget cuts threaten to stall city commuters

By Maroon Staff

The Chicago Transportation Authority (CTA) recently announced that it faces a $77 million budget deficit. If the agency does not receive $82.5 million in financial assistance from the Illinois General Assembly, commuters may face a 20 percent decrease in service expenditures. On October 4, the CTA released two budget proposals for 2005, one that anticipates an infusion of funds from the state assembly and one that does not. CTA President Frank Kruesi has stated that if the state does not help his agency close its budget gap, the CTA may eliminate 250 jobs that are not directly involved in bus or rail service. The service and frequency of many rail routes will be decreased. Even if the state does replenish the agency’s budget, certain fare hikes seem inevitable. Disabled riders who use the Taxi Access Program (TAP) and curb-to-curb service could see the cost of their fare double from $1.75 to $3.50.

In a CTA press release issued on October 4, Kruesi said of the deficit and proposed fare increases, “If CTA receives adequate funding, it will be able to maintain current service levels and build on them to sustain the momentum of ridership growth in five of the past six years,” he said. “But without adequate funding, CTA will have no choice but to drastically restructure its service in order to achieve a balanced budget.”

According to the agency’s website, CTA funding has not grown to match rising inflation since 1985. In 1979, the General Assembly substituted uniform gas and sales taxes with the existing differential sales tax. Throughout the 1990s, the federal government cut operating assistance while introducing new unfunded mandates. CTA officials say that maintaining service under the current funding plan is unsustainable.

The CTA has tried to drum up support for its request for state aid by employing billboards that ask individuals to contact their state lawmakers in support of transit. But the agency’s financial woes also threaten other Chicago-area transportation systems. If the CTA is successful in obtaining additional funding from the state, the Metra and Pace may lose a considerable amount of support.

University of Chicago officials have expressed frustration and sorrow with the looming service crisis. Sharlene Holly, the director of Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities (ORCSA), wrote in an e-mail, “Chicago’s South Side already has public transportation challenges, and if the CTA has to drastically reduce service, the impact on the whole community will be significant.” She added that if students leave Chicago without traveling to Pilsen and Little Village, Uptown, Bronzeville, Chinatown and other neighborhoods, then they will have missed out on “some great opportunities.” Without adequate public transportation, according to Holly, it is difficult for students to explore the city. Cheryl Gutman, deputy dean of students for housing, dining, and transportation and assistant dean of the College, noted that the #170, #171, #172 and #173 bus routes will probably not be affected since they are subsidized by the University.

CTA officials have created a series of public hearings on the proposed service cuts. They will take place on Tuesday, October 19, at Chicago State University, and on Monday, October 25, at Evanston Township High School.