January 10, 2006

CTA hikes transit fares to cushion budget woes

A trip downtown could get pricier for students due to Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) fare increases effective starting January 1.

For those paying cash, the fare for one ride on bus or rail has been raised to $2. Customers using magnetic-strip Transit Cards pay $2 for rail but continue to pay $1.75 per ride on bus.

The elimination of cash transfers means that cash-paying customers will no longer have the option to transfer between rail and buses for $0.25, and must instead pay the $2 fare for all transfers except rail-to-rail.

Customers using Transit Cards may continue to transfer for $0.25.

Fares for the Chicago Card, Chicago Card Plus, and unlimited-ride passes are protected from the increase. Fares for both Chicago Card options remain at $1.75, and $0.25 transfers are still available.

The “Rush Shuttle fare”—a $1 reduced fare on certain rush-hour bus routes to Metra stations—was raised to $2, according to a press release from the CTA. Also, the bonus for adding value to Chicago Cards was changed to 10 percent for every $20 of value added instead of 10 percent for every $10 added.

The fare increase, approved by the Chicago Transit Board in November, is expected to generate about $17 million for the CTA, according to the release.

“An increase in cash fares will help offset spiking fuel prices, which continue to put significant pressure on the CTA budget,” said CTA spokesperson Robyn Ziegler in an interview. “The cash fare, along with other cost efficiency initiatives, will enable CTA to get through 2006 with a balanced budget.”

Though the fare increase does not resolve the CTA’s “long-term financial problems,” according to Sheila Gregory, the CTA’s general manager of Public Affairs, the CTA is maintaining current service levels and managing through the year in order to allow time for the Illinois General Assembly, Governor Rod Blagojevich, and the Regional Transportation Authority to “devise a fair solution to the structural funding problem challenging the regional transit system,” Gregory said.

To facilitate a switch to the fare-protected Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus, the CTA is waiving the $5 purchasing cost through March 31, according to Ziegler.

The Chicago Card—which can be purchased by mail, the CTA phone, the CTA website, and at the CTA headquarters downtown—can now also be bought at selected stores such as certain Jewel, Dominick’s, Osco, and Currency Exchanges, including the one located on 310 East 47th Street, according to Ziegler.

In addition to all train stations, the CTA has expanded the number of locations to reload the Chicago Card, including the main lobby of the Museum of Science and Industry.

The Chicago Card Plus, managed through an account linked to a credit card, can be purchased by mail, the CTA phone, the CTA website, and at the CTA headquarters downtown.

The fare increase will not directly impact the University’s budget or CTA service of Hyde Park buses, according to Brian Shaw, director of Campus Transportation and parking services. The 170, 171, and 172 buses will remain free for U of C students.

Though Shaw said that he could not yet foresee if the CTA fare increase would impact budgeting for the University’s alternate transportation plans, he said that any possible subsidy program used by the University would be protected from the increase through the Chicago Card program.

Kyle Lee, a second-year in the College and Student Government Transportation and Security Committee chair and Late Night Transportation Committee chair, also said that the Transportation Committee is “not too worried” about the 25 cent increase and mentioned that students can protect themselves from the fare increase by acquiring a Chicago Card or Chicago Card Plus.

“Discussion is ongoing about additional and alternate transportation options for students,” Lee said. “At this time, the CTA fare structure modification that went into effect on January 1, 2006 will not cause the Transportation Committee to alter any of its projects or consider new ones.”