New Bill Keeps Transit Rolling in the Region
Good news for transit riders and advocates: CTA “Doomsday” has been averted through the Illinois Legislature’s $530 million plan to cover the CTA’s operating expenses. Just what do you need to know about this bill now as it stands right now?
The Governor and legislature have decided to fund the new plan, which will go into effect on April 1st, through a quarter-percent increase in Northeastern Illinois sales taxes as well as funds from a new property-transfer tax. In addition, the Regional Transit Authority (RTA), which oversees CTA, Metra, and Pace, will be restructured with more power to coordinate those agencies, with the goal of eliminating overlaps in service like those that occur in inner-ring suburbs serviced by multiple RTA systems. Pension reform is another part of the bill; the fund for CTA employees will be fully funded by the year 2050.
The Governor’s last-minute addition of an unexpected amendatory veto stipulating that all senior citizens who live in transit districts ride free troubled many people. Currently, there are about 20 million seniors using CTA reduced fare cards; many more do not currently hold reduced fare cards, and thus no one can conclusively estimate the potential revenue loss to the CTA. Disability advocates are also upset that Blagojevich did not extend free service to disabled people, many of whom are immobile without the help of transit and overloaded with medical expenses.
The Illinois House recently introduced a plan to override Blagojevich’s veto and replace it with a plan to extend free service to those seniors who qualify for a discount program called Circuit Breakers, which currently provides discounts on property taxes and medical care for the elderly. Under the House’s plan, which will be introduced to the Senate next week, seniors who meet the income requirements for the Circuit Breakers plan will receive free service. Pending approval by the Senate, the plan will go to Governor Blagojevich; if he approves it, it will go into effect July 1 of this year, but if he vetoes it, the legislature will have to go into a veto session.
CNT has long been an advocate for comprehensive transit funding as an investment to the vitality of the region. Since the 1970s, the CTA’s resources have been dwindling, and the need for funding has clashed with Illinois’ desire for a balanced budget. It was not until recent years, however, that the RTA was fully backed up against the wall with the elimination of Federal Transit Administration subsidies and the later service cuts and fare hikes. Since then, the CTA’s infrastructure has been declining along with its quality of service, resulting in the infamous “slow zones” on elevated tracks as well as the long wait times that plagued riders. Voices within the CTA and without are now saying that even though doomsday may no longer be upon us, the solution addresses only operating expenses, with the capital funding necessary to improve aging infrastructure still unaddressed.