CTA officials say the catch is that the labor unions must approve changes in work rules to help the agency close a quarter of a billion dollar hole in the budget.
With a $277 million budget deficit, the CTA says it can be balanced with $117 million in management cuts and $160 million from the unions.
While riders are getting a break, many know asking workers to give back millions is a long shot. The transit authority's president says if unions don't give in, layoffs will come first followed by possible fare hikes.
Given a choice between pockets, the CTA would rather have money come from its workers rather than riders. In presenting next year's budget, CTA President Forrest Claypool says the transit agency can shave $160 million from its unions by limiting wage growth, changing health care benefits and changing what Claypool calls antiquated work rules.
"Employees in other sectors of the economy don't expect two and half times for working birthdays and anniversaries," said Claypool.
Claypool says that is just one example. He says there are union jobs being done by three people that could be done by one and chronic absenteeism among the ranks is a problem.
The union representing rail operators say the CTA's numbers are greatly exaggerated.
"The numbers will come out. If I'm wrong when those numbers come out I'm wrong. But I highly doubt it," said Robert Kelly, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308.
With a union contract up at the end of the year, the union says right now it doubts members will give back $160 million. Claypool says if that is the case, layoffs -- possibly 1,000 -- are inevitable.
"I think responsible union leadership would say let's protect jobs and service, because giving up the work rules really doesn't benefit the majority of our members, it really is small in comparison to the larger issue of maintaining 1,000 jobs," Claypool said.
Union leadership says it is up to its members to decide.
"They are going to have the ultimate decision. If they should vote no we're not going to give anything in, then there might be consequences to pay for some of them.. We know that," said Kelly.
CTA riders hope fair increases are the last resort.
"Not us, we are already paying a lot in taxes," said one rider
"I don't like to see money coming out of anyone's pocket. But if in fact they're employed and they're making a decent living it's better than being laid off and having no job," said Terry Austin, CTA rider.
Union president Robert Kelly says the CTA is trying to publically pit riders against unions. Kelly says the CTA is trying to bust the union.
While Forrest Claypool says he has initiated talks with the unions, Kelly says the union will sit down and negotiate when it is contract time.