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Gov. Quinn to CTA Riders: Lower Fares More Important than Useful Service

(Graphic: Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s 2010 CTA transit map?)

I guess it must be something in the water. But as usual, another Illinois politician has decided that Chicagoans would rather have lower fares than useful transit service. Yesterday in Crain’s, Greg Hinz reported that Illinois Governor Pat Quinn had brokered a deal to stop a 2010 CTA fare hike. (See also today’s Clout Street.) My question is: who asked him to?

Back in October, when the CTA announced yet another potential funding doomsday, the stakes were worse than usual. Instead of choosing between raised fares or drastic service cuts, because of a 30% loss in public funding stemming from the bad economy, Chicagoans were about to be faced with raised fares and $90 million in drastic cuts in transit service. Among those cuts: an almost 10% reduction in ‘L’ service, and a whopping almost 20% reduction in bus service.

(How bad are the cuts? In just one example of the hardship about to happen, if you live along Division Street–or several other Windy City main thoroughfares–you’d better get used to taking cabs after eight o’clock in the evening. See for yourself in these PDFs: proposed route reductions, proposed hour reductions.)

According to Hinz, sometime this week Quinn and the CTA are set to announce a deal to freeze Chicago’s transit fare potentially through 2011. The cost of freezing the fare? Going through with those $90 million in service cuts. Meaning, Chicagoans might be able to afford transit service for the next two years, they just might not be able to find it on a nearby street corner, at a useful hour, or even at all.

Obviously the erstwhile Chicagoan Gov. Quinn isn’t a CTA transit rider and hasn’t been for some time. Maybe he’s forgotten how this city relies on the CTA for getting around at all hours to all corners of town. His impending deal to protect 9-to-5 work trips at the expense of overall convenience is an ill-considered one.

Quinn’s reasoning is as old as it is political. He probably thinks he’ll get more votes by telling Chicagoans, “Look, I saved you money.” Too bad by the time the election rolls around, CTA riders will have figured out the hassle Quinn’s great favor did them.

The real question is: which is more damaging to the economic health of Chicago? Paying $3 to ride a 9:00 PM CTA bus when a Jewel clerk needs to get to his overnight job or a midnight Orange Line train when a businesswoman needs to get to Midway for that last plane out, or paying $20 for a taxi because Chicago has gutted its transit service?


(Find more discussion of this issue and vote up the topic in this Windy Citizen post.)

(UPDATE 11/12/09: Find a scathing review of Quinn’s transit funding deal in this Chicago Tribune editorial.)

Categories: Chicago Transit Authority Politics TRANSIT

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Mike Doyle

I’m an #OpenlyAutistic gay, Hispanic, urbanist, Disney World fan, New York native, politically independent, Jewish blogger in Chicago. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I write words and raise money for nonprofits. I’ve written this blog since 2005. And counting...

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5 replies

  1. Agreed that the main difference between Blago and Quinn is that one of them is criminally corrupt.

    I also agree that it’s a shame transit is a political plaything here, but frankly transit goes through similar BS is in Philly, Boston, San Fran, and even New York, so I think it’s just the way things are the forsseable future for transit in this country. If that’s taken as a given, then I don’t see the current deal as particularly awful if it indeed brings the unions to the bargaining table, since now their interests are the same as riders (i.e. preserve as much service/jobs as reasonably possible since every other avenue is now a settled issue).

    I will also propose that perhaps roads are subject to a similar sort of political gamesmanship. The winters of 2007 and 2008 resulted in wild degradation of our roadways – have you noticed how people complained about potholes nonstop for the last 2 years? And how this year, between the state finally passing a patchwork capital plan and the Feds passing the ARRA, there are major resurfacing projects all over?

    That’s because there was no state capital plan after 2005, so by 2007 the lack of any investment whatsoever had taken it’s toll, and by 2009 the state of our roadways was quite bad indeed. Our traffic signals are still stuck in the stone age, when more modern ones could unlock bottlenecked intersections that not only result in excess air pollution because of cars idling, but also slow down buses and thus make buses that much less desirable (modern signals could also have transit signal priority too, of course).

  2. David, smaller cuts would be a good thing. However, this doesn’t make things better right now. Once again, Chicago transit riders are being used as pawns in a political game over transit funding. It’s like a sick, pathetic annual sport on the part of the agency and whomever is in the governor’s office in any given autumn. Highway funding is never treated this way.

    I don’t know what’s more amazing, that voting-age CTA riders put up with it or that governors like Quinn (and Blagojevich before him) think it’s perfectly acceptable to put millions of transit-dependent voters through several months of psychological hell. Both parties should be ashamed of themselves.

    And if Quinn thinks I’m voting for him–ever–he’s out of his farebox-pandering mind. When we booted Blago, I thought he’d actually be a better leader. Now I see the only difference is that he’s not–as much of–a narcissist.

  3. I think you are missing something big here.

    CTA management’s proposal was basically to make up the deficit half by fare increase, and half by service reduction (remember, service reduction = layoffs). Decent starting point for bargaining with the union – you guys share half the burden, basically.

    This “deal” now means that the severity of the cuts are entirely within the union’s control based on what concessions they are willing to make regarding forgoing their 2010 raise (3.5%, which will be about $30 million, or a third of the shortfall), some number of unpaid furlough days, and so on.

    So the CTA will charge ahead with the $90 million cut and the ~1,000 or so layoffs it entails, and the unions will decide if they want to play chicken or play ball and reduce the impact on their brothers and sisters. The ball is firmly in their court now. In theory, if the unions make concessions not only on their raises, but also on taking a handful of furlough days and on some work rules (e.g. the number of part time shifts vs. full time shifts) it’s conceivable that the final cuts actually required will be quite small indeed.

  4. You get no argument from me. I’m a night owl, so I can often be found on a bus or train in the middle of the night. I’d rather pay $3 for a bus or train ride than $12 for a cab ride.

    And $3 is still cheap. There aren’t many mass transit systems that’ll take you from one side of the city to the other for that little. I’ve paid significantly more in other cities (such as London and Paris, thanks to their zone systems).

    Gas prices are not always going to be as (relatively) cheap as they are now. We should be expanding mass transit (particularly rail) in preparation for the day (not that far off) when people will finally stop driving everywhere.

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