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CTA, Metra, Pace: No fare hikes, service cuts next year

No fare hikes or doomsday scenarios are in store next year for riders on the CTA, Metra and Pace.

The three transit agencies released proposed 2014 budgets this week that freeze fares and promise the same service levels in effect this year.

The CTA unveiled a $1.38 billion 2014 budget Friday that is 1 percent leaner than the agency’s 2013 budget, while Metra announced a proposed budget that increases spending by nearly 2 percent.

Metra officials said Friday that while they don’t anticipate a fare increase or service cuts in 2014, there are no plans to roll back a hike in the price of 10-ride tickets that went into effect in February. Some board members at the commuter rail agency have said taking away the discount offered on 10-ride tickets was a mistake.  

Earlier this week, Pace officials released a proposed 2014 budget and offered a “very stable outlook for the year ahead.”

The promise of no fare hikes from the CTA is a welcome reprieve for riders who were hit with increases on all passes this year, as well as some service cuts.

The agency instituted a new $5 fare for Blue Line trips originating at O'Hare International Airport, while a service restructuring in late 2012 eliminated about a dozen bus routes and reduced services on others that suffered from low ridership.

Under the new Ventra fare system, currently being phased in, CTA rail riders who use cash to buy single-ride paper tickets are paying $3 instead of the regular fare of $2.25.

The CTA is working to erase a $10.1 million budget deficit in 2013. The deficit was whittled down from an estimated $165 million at the beginning of the year by raising the pass prices and cutting costs. Officials said this year's budget will be balanced by December.

The agency’s proposed 2014 budget continues a $4 billion capital-improvement plan to rehab rail stations, purchase new rail cars and buses and work toward bringing the transit agency’s aged infrastructure to a state of good repair, officials said. The CTA has unfunded capital needs of more than $7 billion.

CTA President Forrest Claypool took credit for the major strides the agency has made under his leadership, including paring down what in 2011 was a $308 million deficit.

“CTA remains on strong financial footing even as the agency is chronically underfunded by the state each year,” Claypool said Friday.

Major CTA modernization initiatives include the $425 million track-replacement project on the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line, which is scheduled to wrap up Sunday.

The CTA will begin construction next year on a new 95th Street terminal on the Red Line at a cost of $240 million. Work will also begin to rebuild the Wilson Red Line station in the Uptown neighborhood. The project is budgeted at $203 million.

A public hearing on the 2014 CTA budget is set for 6 p.m. Nov. 12 at CTA headquarters, 567 W. Lake St., Chicago.

Metra’s proposed budget totals $935.9 million, including $728.6 million for operations and $207.3 million for capital needs. That is up 1.7 percent over 2013. Officials said the increase reflects projected price increases for labor, benefits and other day-to-day costs.

Projected 2014 revenues are expected to be down 1.9 percent from last year. This includes an $8.5 million decrease in fare revenue to compensate for an overestimate of revenue in 2013, officials said.

Metra’s budget for capital needs will rise 34 percent over 2013 chiefly because of an infusion of $45 million from a bond program initiated by the Regional Transportation Authority.

Metra estimates a funding gap of $7 billion over the next eight years for capital needs.

To build revenue, Metra must focus on building ridership among so-called “reverse commuters” who take trains from their homes in the city to jobs in the suburbs, and attracting more off-peak riders, board member Norman Carlson said. 

Metra has scheduled eight public hearings for Nov. 6 and 7 on its budget at locations in Chicago, suburban Cook County and each of the collar counties.

Pace will hold 13 budget public hearings throughout the six-county region through the end of October, and these will be combined with hearings to discuss proposed fare policy changes tied to the suburban bus agency’s transition to Ventra.

jhilkevitch@tribune.com

Twitter @jhilkevitch

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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