Public transit funding cuts in proposed Ill. budget could cost riders, RTA says

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Thursday, March 19, 2015
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Gov. Bruce Rauner vows to cut funding for public transit while the RTA plans to rally the community against the proposed cuts.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WLS) -- Gov. Bruce Rauner vows to cut funding for public transit as the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) Board plans to rally the community to protest the proposed cuts.

Rauner had a multi-billion-dollar deficit to make up when he drafted his state budget. He expects the RTA to share in the burden of balancing that ledger.

Read Gov. Rauner's full budget proposal here.

The RTA is the second largest mass transit system in the country, as two million people per day rely on Metra, CTA and Pace for transportation.

The agency says public transportation is a proven catalyst for economic growth, but says that growth is in jeopardy with Rauner's proposed plan to cut $170 million from mass transit.

"If cuts were to be implemented on paper today, there will be a combination of service cuts and fare increases," said Leanne Redden, RTA executive director.

Redden says the CTA, which provides 81 percent of the rides in the Chicago area, would take the biggest hit, facing a $130 million cut. The RTA says that is equivalent to 30 percent of the CTA's revenue that comes from fares.

"$130 million equals 10 weeks of bus service, no one is proposing that, but it gives you the magnitude," Redden said.

Redden says the amount Metra would lose is equivalent to shutting down lines or raising fares by 6 percent.

"We are not doing a sky is falling type of thing, we are just trying to lay out the numbers and what it would mean to real human lives," said Kirk Dillard, RTA chairman.

And it could mean driving commuters away from mass transit.

"I'll probably drive more with gas prices down," said Shena Drain, a commuter.

"It's seems to me everything going up and up, except everybody's pay," said Marie Swanson, a commuter.

Gov. Rauner says cuts are unavoidable unless there are changes in how much government unions control.

"We're also going to give local agencies like the CTA the ability to control collective bargaining within the agencies," Rauner said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has joined the chorus of those who say the transit funding cuts disproportionately affect Chicago's working families.

Emanuel and Rauner have had a generally positive working relationship in the past. It is unclear whether they can reach an agreement on this issue.

While public transportation dollars would be reduced, the governor's budget also calls on a $120 million increase in funding for road and state construction.

Rauner's office says he plans to work with the RTA to implement reforms he has proposed that would help to reduce transit operating costs. That will only be necessary if the legislature approves his proposal.