Every year around this time, the CTA stars in a high-budget film called "Will there be service cuts and fare hikes next year?"
This year's theme involves CTA president Forrest Claypool and union leaders negotiating over changes to decades-old work rules that could save at least $80 million.
Claypool first discussed the need for these changes more than a year ago, but was able to stave off service cuts and fare hikes this year through some labor savings and increased ridership. Labor leaders say they've been made a scapegoat.
"We bought ourselves some time," Claypool said in May. "[But] all the tricks in the trick bag are gone."
So here we are again, riders. The CTA planned to present next year's budget this past Thursday but backed out 20 minutes before a scheduled press announcement because leaders were still negotiating. Monday afternoon, the CTA said it had reached an agreement with the unions but still was finalizing next year's budget.
Every year, the budget seems precarious and doomsday feels imminent.
In early 2008, fare hikes and service cuts were averted after the state legislature approved a sales-tax increase. But then there was a plot twist: then-Gov. Blagojevich said he would only endorse the plan if senior citizens could ride the CTA for free.
In 2009, the CTA hiked fares to $2.25 for cash bus fares and rail rides because of high fuel costs and less tax revenue than expected.
For 2010, service cuts and fare hikes were again on the table—until we saw another plot twist. Gov. Quinn struck a deal with the CTA in 2009 that involved borrowing millions of dollars to help the transit system—as long as the agency didn't hike fares for two years. Riders still saw 18 percent of bus service and 9 percent of rail service cut after talks with the unions failed.
For 2011, the agency avoided doomsday talk and didn't hike fares or cut service.
And this year? The CTA already plans to make service changes next month that aren't supposed to cost or save anything. Some bus routes will be cut while other bus and rail routes will see increased service.
As for the budget, stay tuned. Let's hope this sequel doesn't turn into "Final Destination 6: Find a new way to get to work."
Holiday Train tracker
The annual CTA Holiday Train kicks off Friday and Saturday on the Green Line. Spot the train? Snap a photo and send to firstname.lastname@example.org for GP's annual holiday train gallery.
A weekly dispatch from a CTA station of note
This week: Montrose Blue Line
How did the CTA rider cross the road? If he or she is at the Montrose station in Irving Park, it's either by running into traffic or walking through a passageway underneath traffic. There's no crosswalk in front of the Montrose stop, so if riders want to get to a bus on the other side of the street safely, they have to go through a pathway below Montrose Avenue that parallels expressway traffic. Complicating matters is that one of the escalators at the station was out of service Monday. But some relief may be on the way. In its plan to better pedestrian conditions in Chicago, the city Department of Transportation said it wants to improve entranceways of Blue and Red Line stations along expressways.
Next up: Clinton Blue Line.
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