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CTA pass users face fare hikes

CTA pass customers, who account for about half of all riders on buses and trains, will be socked with hefty fare hikes starting in mid-January under a proposed 2013 budget that was announced today.

With one exception, the base full fare – $2.25 on trains and $2 or $2.25 on buses depending on whether a fare card or cash is used to pay – will be frozen in 2013 for the fourth year in a row, officials said.

The exception is the Blue Line from O'Hare International Airport. Single-ride fares from the airport will more than double, to $5 from $2.25, under the $1.39 billion budget that CTA president Forrest Claypool proposed. Someone riding to the airport on the "L," to meet someone at the airport, for example, then riding back within two hours, would only pay a 25 cent transfer fee, a CTA spokesman said.

The fare hikes are expected to generate about $56 million a year, helping along with other measures to erase a projected $165 million budget shortfall for 2013, Claypool said.

He predicted the fare increases and expense reductions that the CTA negotiated with its unions in a new four-year contract will help put the CTA on a stronger financial footing and eliminate the need to boost fares again any time soon.

"This will put us on a solid fiscal path for many, many years," Claypool told reporters at CTA headquarters downtown.

But half of CTA riders will pay more for their commutes next year. In addition, 12 bus routes will be eliminated and two other routes will be shortened starting in mid-December under a controversial "de-crowding initiative" that adds service on other bus routes as well as rail lines in an effort to boost service where demand is greatest and to provide a more comfortable ride.

Then, effective Jan. 14, prices will shoot up for daily, three-day, seven-day and 30-day passes, by as much as 74 percent for the 1-day pass.

CTA officials carefully avoided using the term "fare hikes" when speaking about the four different types of passes affected, preferring instead to describe them as "modest reductions in discounts" aimed mostly at tourists and bringing the price of the passes in line with what transit agencies in other major U.S. cities charge.

But the fare hikes will likely spur most users of CTA passes to reassess how often they ride the CTA and whether it would be more cost-effective to switch to a new payment method.

The 30-day pass will increase to $100, from $86 currently, which is a 16 percent increase.

Seven-day passes will rise 22 percent, to $28 from $23. Three-day passes will increase 43 percent, to $20 from $14. And 1-day passes will increase to $10 from $5.75.

In regard to the new $5 fare on Blue Line trips beginning at O'Hare, customers who use monthly passes, Chicago Cards set up as monthly passes, or 1-day, 3-day and 7-day passes will be exempt. Reduced-fare riders will also not pay more, officials said.

Meanwhile, reduced fares for students, currently 85 cents, will decrease to 75 cents to encourage school attendance, officials said.

The reduced fare for seniors and disabled individuals will increase from 85 cents to $1 on bus and to $1.10 on rail. Also, the 10 percent bonus will be eliminated on reduced-fare pre-paid cards.

The 30-day reduced-fare pass will increase to $50 from $35 currently.

Senior citizens and people with disabilities who are in the Circuit Breaker low-income program will continue to ride free, officials said.

Riders for Better Transit, a public transportation advocacy group, said riders seem to be getting less service for their money year after year. The CTA slashed bus service by 18 percent and rail service by 9 percent in 2010. CTA train fares have increased 80 percent since 1990, according to an analysis by the group.

"CTA and Metra are barely squeaking by. We can't keep expecting transit riders to bear more of the burden," said Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, which spearheads the Riders for Better Transit campaign. "The system is broken and only our elected leaders in city hall, Springfield and Washington have the power to fix it" by increasing funding for mass transit.

The 2013 CTA budget was unveiled a day after the transit agency and the union representing more than 7,000 bus and rail employees signed a tentative agreement for a new four-year labor contract. The old contract expired in 2011.

The labor deal gives the CTA some of the work rule changes it sought to reduce expenses, from overtime pay policies to preventive health care measures.

In exchange for that flexibility, members of the Amalgamated Transit Union will receive annual salary increases and be required to work fewer of the unpopular swing shifts that prolong the work day, among other benefits, officials said.

Jhilkevitch@tribune.com

Twitter: @jhilkevitch

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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