CTA: 25 cent fare hike in 2009

CHICAGO The CTA says it must raise fares to make up for high energy costs, low tax revenues and free rides for seniors and the disabled. CTA board members say it was either a fare hike or service cuts.

The fare increase goes into effect on January 1, 2009.

For many CTA riders, the buses and trains are the only means of transportation from home to work. It has always been a relatively affordable way to get around. But some say a fare increase is going to hurt most those who can least afford it.

"It's getting to the point where only rich people can ride the CTA and it was supposed to be for the middle income, lower income people to ride," said Harry Brooks, CTA rider.

The problem however according to CTA officials is they have no other way to balance the budget than to increase fares. Their energy costs have gone way up and revenue from the sales tax is way down. The board voted six to one to raise fares on CTA trains from $2 to $2.25 and buses from $1.75 to $2.

"We are maintaining service and hopefully improving service the next year. That's huge for us that we don't have to contemplate leaving our riders stranded," said Carole Brown, CTA Board Chairman.

"We're hopeful that it'll be years before we have to turn back to our riders," said Ron Huberman, CTA President.

Many CTA customers at Thursday's meeting however believe the agency should have tried harder to avoid increasing fares at a time when many riders are already facing economic challenges.

"I think we should have found a way to wait a year before having to do this," said Sheila Nix, CTA Board member.

Michael Pitula is an activist who says he hears from lots of riders in his community who plan to walk and ride bikes more to avoid paying the CTA fares.

"More and more people are saying they can't afford it. We have an economic recession right now. A fare increase amounts to a tax increase," said Pitula, community activist.

A fare increase does allow the CTA to balance its 2009 budget but that does not come without some pain; 623 layoffs allow the CTA to balance the budget. And about 200 of those will take effect at the end of this calendar year.

The CTA fare increase coincides with a fare increase in the surburban Pace bus system, which was approved last month.

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