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BREAKING NEWS: CTA May Cease Operating in 2010

(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.

Categories: Chicago Transit Authority TRANSIT

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

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Contact: mikedoyleblogger@gmail.com

13 replies

  1. “Cutting back” or “ceasing operation” are things I am tired of hearing about. CTA and the outrageuous taxes are really making me think about leaving Chicago for someplace better. Which is sad because after 20 years I love this town with every fiber of my being, but the QUALITY of living is losing out to the COST of living. I can no longer afford my humble existence in the City of Big Shoulders.

  2. I believe the article was written to convey that the RTA, as an entity, would cease to exist, which wouldn’t be such a bad thing since the RTA does very little for the CTA. I mean, we’ve had the Chicago Card since 1999, and ten years later, the RTA can’t assemble enough branding know-how and technical largesse to link three systems together to create an RTA ridership card?

  3. [Ed. note: This comment was received without a verifiable email address. If you won’t sign your name to your own words, I won’t allow them to appear on CHICAGO CARLESS. Have a nice day.]

  4. Make those freeloading seniors pay double!

    In all seriousness, I’m not sure the true impact of Blago’s seniors ride free stunt, but I’m sure it is not helping the CTA budget and threatens a system of transit that the entire region’s economy depends on…

  5. There will be money for transit in the Olympic plan, it just wasn’t included in the bid. Hilkevitch explained it in his article in the 2/15/09 edition of the Tribune:


    Opportunities for more transportation improvements exist, but officials were not permitted to include them in the Chicago 2016 proposal to the International Olympic Committee released Friday because the projects currently are not funded.

    There’s no guarantee holding an Olympics will yield buckets of federal money. But the promise of millions of dollars for Chicago-area mass transit emerging in the economic stimulus package, plus a reauthorization of multiyear transportation funding for the nation in the fall, could hardly come together at a better time for a city competing to host an international event.”

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-olympics-transportation-15feb15,0,5090334.story

  6. Too bad Daley can’t be bothered to do the one thing that would save his career… Digging into his “own” pockets (all of the TIF funds) and spending money on the city where it is really needed… and not for stupid pet projects that really won’t matter in the end. The schools certainly wouldn’t be hurting right now and the CTA wouldn’t be facing a do or die doomsday scenario if this were the case.

  7. There is no way anyone will allow for this to happen. The transit operations that CTA runs are too critical to the Chicago metropolitan area to just allow it to shut down. Something will happen…I hope.

  8. I’m surprised it’s not front page news – not because it’s going to happen, but because such ridiculous doomsaying is a mainstay of media reporting. You demonstrated as much with this posting.

  9. I had just read the Trib article about 10 minutes ago. And I zeroed in on this paragraph:

    This time, the new numbers would basically shut down the system if the General Assembly or the RTA failed to provide a solution, CTA officials said.

    I’ve got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

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