CTA ridership up, revenue stagnant

Brown Line construction to be completed early
CHICAGO The high cost of gasoline is driving many commuters to mass transit. And the free ride offered to senior citizens is another reason behind the rise in CTA ridership. Ridership for the agency has risen more than three percent over the last 12 months.

CTA president Ron Huberman says the increase in ridership this year is substantial and he calls that a very positive development.

And that's not the only good news. There was word Wednesday that work on the Brown Line between Belmont and Fullerton, which was scheduled to be finished by the middle of next year, will now be completed six months ahead of schedule.

The CTA has bought itself -- and in turn its riders -- a tighter schedule for finishing up track work on the Brown, Red and Purple lines.

Right now, it's down to just one track southbound.

But it will be back to three tracks by the end of the year, finishing the job six months earlier than projected.

By spending $1.6 million, Huberman says ridership gains and operational savings should bring in an additional $1.8 million.

"And so it not only adds a huge value to our customers, but it adds a huge value to our authority to bring this in," Huberman said.

Huberman outlined many changes and improvements in the CTA's system Wednesday, but the biggest boost seems to be coming from factors beyond his control, especially high gas prices.

Many people appear to be ditching their cars for trains or buses.

"I ride it every day, 100 percent," said CTA rider Gisara Hudson. "I don't drive a car anymore or anything."

Compared to last year, CTA ridership is up 4.5 percent for buses and 1.2 percent for rail - overall, a 3.2 percent gain.

"The public is responding to higher fuel costs and using public transportation because it's a cheaper alternative, and I think all of that attributes to the increased ridership," said Carole Brown, CTA Chairman.

But increased ridership does not mean higher gains in revenue.

The CTA says more people are opting for the 30-day unlimited monthly pass for $75, resulting in more rides but not more cash coming in.

The same is true for senior citizens, to whom Governor Rod Blagojevich gave free rides earlier this year, beginning March 17.

Over the last three weeks, the CTA has seen senior rides jump by nearly 20,000 riders a day, a seven to 11 percent increase.

"Good for the people, bad for the company, I mean, they're losing money," said Gloria Inouye, senior rider. "I'm saving it."

But with all those people packing buses and trains, Huberman says it is more imperative than ever that lawmakers in Springfield pass a capital funding bill soon.

The governor's office said it is the number one priority right now. They are working on a bill behind the scenes and say they hope to have it up for a vote in the next few weeks.
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