BREAKING NEWS: CTA May Cease Operating in 2010

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(Photo: As Huberman goes, so goes the CTA? Apparently, unfortunately so. Credit: alfiemartin.)

The Chicago Tribune’s John Hilkevitch reports today that due to the failing economy, the Chicago Transit Authority is now facing a budget crisis so huge that the agency my simply cease operating in 2010 without emergency state funding.  So why isn’t this front-page news?

According to Hilkevitch, the ongoing economic meltdown has completely erased the benefit of the hard-won funding arrangement set in place by the State of Illinois, the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), and transit operators CTA, Metra, and Pace in late 2007. By the end of this year, the RTA estimates a tax-revenue shortfall of $213 million for the CTA–367% larger than the 2007 shortfall that almost wiped out half of all CTA service.

CTA officials speaking on condition of anonymity told Hilkevitch a shortfall like that would force the agency to cease operations entirely in 2010. As in no more ‘L’ and bus service in the City of Chicago, period. Again, this not front-page news for what reason, folks?

For that matter, considering that Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley originally installed his probable protégé, Ron Huberman, at the CTA in 2007 to help put an end to a series of potantially devastating funding crises that could have seen the city’s ‘L’ and bus service cut in half, how strategic does Mayor Daley’s recent sudden yanking of Huberman away from the beleaguered agency to head Chicago Public Schools seem now?  Not to mention a municipal bid to host the 2016 Olympic Summer Games that includes not a single additional dime for CTA service improvements?

Making matters worse, CTA Acting President Dorval Carter–the agency’s former operations manager–told Hilkevitch, “My first knowledge about these very serious projections that the RTA has given us occurred this week…It was surprising.”

You’re kidding?

But wait, it gets better. Well, worse, really. As part of the 2007 transit funding overhaul, the RTA was granted sweeping power to perform regional transit planning across Chicagoland and adopt a guiding hand in the operating agency decisions.  So why is RTA Executive Director Steve Schlickman telling Hilkevitch, “We’ve given the service boards some sobering indications of the trends and asked them to seriously look at their budgets, gauge the impact and address it.”

That sounds like some serious hand-wiping to me.  Apparently, anonymous officials at the CTA agree. Consider this Trib quote from a nameless CTA staffer: “The RTA said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take care of this.’ The RTA wanted more power. Well, they got it, so what are they going to do about the worst doomsday we’ve ever had?”

Good question. I’d ask a third time why this isn’t front-page news but at some point you just need to give up on the cluelessness of major media and opine on the news yourself. So here’s my opinion. More of a news flash, really:

If the CTA and RTA intend to return to the bad-old days of log-rolling, spreading blame, and refusing to act while Windy City transit riders spend yet another stressful year wondering whether they will be able to get back-and-forth to work come January 1st, this carless blogger will throw in the towel and learn how to drive.

Or perhaps just pull up stakes and move to another major city that gives its public transit agency more than lip service. San Francisco comes to mind. Portland does, too. Sure, they’re not world cities. But neither is Chicago if it thinks continuing to jerk around its populace on the public transit issue is acceptable.

It isn’t.  And if Mayor Daley and the rest of the powers that be in this town don’t get that, they sure as hell don’t deserve an Olympics as a consolation prize.

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