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Transit "Doomsday" Rears Its Ugly Head. Again.

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Feb 16, 2009 5:40PM

2009_02_16_doomsday.jpg In what has become a rite of passage for Chicagoans, like that first glorious spring thaw or the annual Cubs collapse, it's time again for another CTA Doomsday warning. This time, the culprit seems to be the economy and according to the Trib's Jon Hilkevitch, "The new numbers are so bleak that the "doomsday" service cuts and fare increases threatened more than a year ago appear mild in comparison to the sweeping measures that would be needed to fill gaping budget holes the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace are facing." Yikes. The CTA, Metra, and PACE are all facing huge tax revenue shortfalls which mean huge funding reductions for both 2008 and 2009.

  • CTA: $58 million for 2008 and $155 million for 2009
  • Metra: $27 million for 2008 and $45 million for 2009
  • PACE: $9 million for 2008 and $16 million for 2009

Now transit officials are hoping state lawmakers can find a way to give them more funding or else face a total system collapse. They do not, however, remain optimistic about their chances. Said RTA Executive Director Steve Schlickman in a letter to transit agency heads, "We all thought that the hard-won . . . legislation would provide sufficient resources to operate our system. And while that legislation did increase our funding, as soon as it became law, economic conditions wiped out much of what we gained."

State legislation passed in 2008 that gave the RTA new authority over the transit agencies provided the RTA with about $200 million in short-term borrowing authority. The RTA also has a "rainy day" fund to deal with emergencies.

However, RTA officials indicated the transit agencies will be expected to steer through the economic slowdown on their own for the most part.

"We've given the service boards some sobering indications of the trends and asked them to seriously look at their budgets, gauge the impact and address it," Schlickman said.

The CTA, though, claims it's been waiting on info from the RTA for six months and has warned the RTA that "belt-tightening" might not cut it for them this time around. CTA Acting President Dorval Carter Jr. said, "Clearly we will look at more internal belt-tightening measures, but I don't want to speculate on more fare increases or anything else."