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Let the negotiations begin

Ron Huberman played his gambit in the CTA funding game Thursday, laying out plans for rail fare increases up to $3.25 and cuts in train routes (Evanston Express and the Yellow Line) and bus lines (any route without Sunday service).

(The RedEye notes that if you ride the train during rush hour and that fare increase went into effect, you would pa about $750 more a year.)

So now the ball is squarely in the Legislature's court.

On top of the fare increases and service cuts, 840 CTA jobs would be cut. And then there's the robbing Peter to pay Paul: The CTA would transfer $56.9 million in capital improvement funds to operations.

Ron Huberman was very matter-of-fact about his so-called "doomsday plan": "If we made no changes, the CTA would be out of service in October," he said.

A man's gotta do what he's gotta do.

In light of the release of this plan, what further questions would you like me to ask Huberman when I interview him?

Comments

It really is a two pronged problem. On one side, the CTA is a money sink hole. They need to fix their operations which the new guy may indeed be doing. We all know the issues for this, way to extreme benefits for the day and age, an ever aging system that has not been kept in repair and employees who continue to get paid regardless of performance, ability or attendance.

Then on the other side, the CTA isn't given enough money. This may be due to years and years of the above mentioned facts. I read elsewhere about people stating we need to pay more, even after comparing our system to NYCs or other places. Well, having recently returned from NYC you pay the same fare there the same way we do now. One fare per turn through a turnstile (except to get in and out of the airport, but thats an airport shuttle fee that their transit agency chagres). You could actually walk to the second station in some places to avoid the first station and not pay the fee for the airport shuttle.

i'm pretty tired of hearing the cta's workers attacked as a solution to the general assembly's chronic underfunding of transit. the workers, by and large, do a great job, with little thanks from the riders.

the ever-increasing rates of worker exploitation in the private sector should not be the benchmark against which we measure proper pay and benefits. a first-class transit system requires decent pay for the workers.

It isn't about being paid decently. That is not what is wrong with the system. Fair and adequate pay is a very good thing.

What is wrong is the pension and health care parts of the package. Not so much the pay. And the reason is, the CTA is a publicly funded entity. This means that every worker is getting a full and just about free health ride at the cost of the people. Why should I be responsible for both my own and my families health care responsibilities as well as every employee of the CTA or any other state agency?

Ask him how much his annual salary is, and how much the rest of the CTA brass makes.

It seems like people who primarily use the CTA to get to work would be more in solidarity with working class people, such as CTA employees. The problem isn't the unions, it's the fact that the regular tax support for the CTA (which is, I will remind you, not a for-profit business, but rather an essential public service) is inadequate and so they need to go begging to the state every year, producing this unedifying ritual of "We'll charge $10 a ride and only run one train a day...." Fix the tax base, and the problem goes away.

$3.25 a ride??? It makes me feel sick. I wouldn't be able to afford that, not in the long run. If I wanted to pay that much to ride a train, I would take the Metra. This "Doomsday" stuff is a yearly event now, I am so sick of it. I really hope Huberman is the person who will make it all better, even if we have to be patient for it.

$3.25/ride... no problemo. I'll just ask my boss for a 50 percent raise since transportation will increase by that much.

Great plan, now how about they roll out a plan for the riders to let us know how we're gonna find an extra grand to pay for the CTA's missmanagement and alternate routes for those people who will lose their bus line.

Look on the bright side: this new plan for a service/fare structure will be representative of what sort of transit system Chicago can actually afford within the constraints of the current funding and collective bargaining structure. Once these cuts and fare increases go into effect, the annual doomsday threats will go away, and your problem is solved!

Two things you might consider asking:

Given the number of downstate and collar-county legislators who really, seriously don't give a damn what happens to the CTA and to Chicago, how will the case for city transit be presented?

Now that the mayor seems finally to have noticed that he has a dying transit system on his hands, will Huberman try to get the city's funding for the CTA raised? Even a little more would help, not just directly but in making the case in Springfield.

A question for Mr. Huberman:

As state funding is no guarantee, only a request that has not been fulfilled for three years, what gain is there of transferring capital funding into operational funds? While these funds do maintain the operation of a percentage of our system through the next fiscal year, what happens if our lawmakers passover transit funding in next year's session, too? If this be the case, we are then out our capital dollars which we cannot recover, we're out even more money for operations, more service cutbacks will be created and deferred maintenance will never be repaired. It is not fiscally responsible to re-appropriate this money UNLESS it comes from funds which are no longer needed due to cut backs; however, this has not been presented as the case. Why shy away from a balanced budget that starts at fare hikes and cuts, with re-appropriated maintenance and capital costs thereafter?

You will probably have to rephrase this, since I do not have all the facts in front of me, but have seen it mentioned here somewhere. (Forgive me if I have the facts wrong)
I understand there is some money available, but it is only supposed to be used for big projects, or at least, not for daily running & maintainance, due to some tortuous bookkeeping set-up. Can this be changed somehow so that the available funds can be put to a better & more immediate use? This struck me as just plain wrong!

A question to the first poster; how do you expect to get performance-related pay if you're taking away employee benefits, especially on CTA pay which isn't great? There has to be quid-pro-quo here; such as "despite our disastrous finances, we'll guarantee your benefits if you agree to performance related pay."

There needs to be a new funding settlement in northeastern Illinois. The RTA proposal is a start, and it generates about the required extra operating revenue for a while, but the sales tax base is constantly narrowing as people purchase more goods from out of state, more services, and fewer goods in-state. And it does nothing about the blatantly poor deal for the Cook County suburbs who pay city levels of tax and get suburban service without suburban flex funds.

But with a little political will and a little negotiation, I think it's perfectly possible to fund it all from northeastern Illinois rather than statewide; it's what we've done in the past with transit.

People in NE Illinois have to wake up to the fact that they don't pay very much for transit. If you don't pay much, you get crummy service. It's amazing in some respects that the CTA has done what it has; hundreds of millions in savings over the past ten to fifteen years with various reorganizations and Smartcards implemented well ahead of other US transit agencies. And Huberman's attack on featherbedded management at HQ is very promising; perhaps finally the personnel efficiencies to match the technology they've implemented. We have to do our bit with taxes and fares. $3.25 is lunatic, but another fifty cents is not unreasonable in view of fare costs and in view of where prices are in real terms compared to, say, 25 years ago. Monthly passes were $35 in 1981; inflation suggests they should be in the mid 90s rather than $75 we currently pay.

Maybe the CTA should drastically cut services AND have the trains and buses that are running run on a reliable time schedule. This way riders will know how to plan their trips accordingly and have a reasonable fare price.

How is it that Metra is the only entity of the RTA that seems to be able to manage its money at all? I understand the CTA offers many more rides a day than Metra, but still...
And Kevin, please tell Ron Huberman that if he plans to cut all of these "not-running-on-Sunday" buses, to PLEASE change the pink line to the 54/Cermak branch of Blue again.
Love the blog.

As far as I see it, the pension and healthcare problems that the CTA has are no different from the ones that Ford, IBM, GM, United and all the other major companies have had. Incidentally, it is also the Social Security problem that the feds still haven't come up with a solution on. And what did they all do - they had to restructure their pensions and health care so that they could actually afford to stay in business.

The alternative to this is people lose their jobs. Which is better?

People need to wake up and smell the coffee. Tough decisions need to be made.

None of this stuff with exploding pensions and health care costs would have happened if we had universal health care and a nationalized pension plan. FDR, you died too soon!

And to cut against the reasoning that this is all the greedy workers' fault, it was actually the corporations who wanted to handle their own pensions and healthcare, so as to get more control over the workers. This was idiotic from an economic standpoint, since it saddled them with a huge open-ended, constantly-growing liability -- but you know, since this is America, anything that screws over the workers must be good!

Cutting health care and pensions is definitely not the answer. How can you wish that on any working person? (This is coming from someone who has neither, btw). If you think the CTA workers are bad now, just wait till they get their benefits taken away.

Snarla:

Nobody is suggesting that all the benefits be taken away from the CTA employees. They are saying that the benifits are currently excessive and that they must be curbed if you want the CTA to have the money to provide reliable service. It was mentioned recently in the tribune that retired employees pay no premiums at all and everything is covered 100%. Employee benefits emcompass 70% of the CTA's operating costs. This is completely unacceptable and unlike almost any other employer, both in the private and public sectors. There is quite a bit that could be cut before anybody needs to worry about there no longer being good beneifits. It really is inexcusable that the CTA has not done something about this sooner.

the last 30 years have seen relentless attacks against workers, the end of job security, radically reduced or eliminated benefits, stagnating wages, and exploding inequality. this is what happens under unrestrained free markets. that is not a model we should impose on government employees, some of the last workers who are not exploited to the breaking point.

universal single-payer health care would solve a lot of problems like these, covering everyone and doing so much more efficiently than private insurers do. until then, leave the cta workers alone. they get the pay and benefits they deserve - it's most other workers who are getting shafted.

Jake:

You act as if you can just snap your fingers and get universal healthcare and all these kinds of problems would magically disappear. You do realize that the money for universal healthcare would have to come from somewhere, right? When taxes are raised to pay for it, it means less money for people to spend. This means businesses produce fewer products and services and fewer workers have jobs. I don't necessarally disagree that there should be some sort of universal healthcare legislation but the reality is there are always negatives with everything. I love how many people seem to think that a possible solution to a problem is always 100% perfect with no complications.

In any case, we don't currently have a universal healthcare system. It falls to the employers, such as the CTA, so discussing how they should handle it is more relevent. Do you really believe that it is acceptable for healthcare benefits to comprise 70% of the operating budget? That is what it is now, according to the Tribune. Do you think it is so much of a hardship for the employees and retirees to make just a little bit of a larger contribution to their health plans?

MK,

The idea that higher taxes = bad stuff is really wrongheaded, not to mention destructive when it prevents necessary investments. You act as though tax revenues just vanish from the economy, which is totally false. There are any number of ways that universal healthcare (to use your example) could actually help the economy, by freeing businesses from spiralling healthcare expenditures and ensuring consumers won't be bankrupted by catastrophic medical expenses (to say nothing of the productivity gains from ensuring proper access to care for all citizens), for example. Mass transit's the same way--surely you can see the ways a more comprehensive, efficient transit system might -help- the economy, in ways that easily offset the higher taxes necessary to make it possible.

Government's not necessarily a bad thing--unclear where people got such a silly idea in their heads in the first place.

Johnson,

It isn't that Metra manages its money better, it's that they receive much more of it given their expenses.

Time to buy a bike. Screw you CTA. Charging more for crappy service? No way, I think it should be $1 for the Blue line. The slower it goes, the less I pay.

These service cuts seem quite reasonable compared to what the CTA usually comes up with. ANY service cuts are bad, of course, as we should be adding service and not losing it, but this isn't half as dumb as cutting most L service past 10pm like they were proposing last time around. And, if you look at what's being cut, it hurts the suburbs disproportionately. Which is what should happen. The suburbs get a disporportionately large amount of money to run Metra and Pace - therefore, the CTA should focus on the city, where it's actually used and really needed.

I actually think this Huberman guy may be half good. We'll have to see, but I'm impressed so far.

By the way, going thru the list of bus routes and taking into account routes that are financed by other sources, it looks like these are the bus routes proposed to be cut: 1, 2, X3, X4, 7, X9, 17, X20, 24, 26, X28, 33, 38, 39, 48, 49A, X49, 53AL, X54, 54A, X55, 55A, 55N, 56A, 59, 62H, 64, 69, 85A, 86, 90N, 93, 96, 100, 108, 120, 121, 122, 123, 125, 127, 129, 132, 134, 135, 136, 143, 144, 148, 156, 157, 165, 200, 205, 206
This list might not be totally right.

Well, another idea might be doing away with the idea we need a bus stop every other block. That can't be good for the bus, it definitely isn't good for traffic and travel times for the buses, and really, is it that hard to walk an extra block?

Uncle Ron should focus his energies on long-term, preplanned budgets of the CTA. As someone else said, this yearly Crying Wolf game is tiring. It's like watching a Hollywood movie when you know the ending: the CTA gets the cash.

The health care and pension issue is a country-wide problem. Everyone out there is crippled by it. Working together for a resonable solution on a global scale is needed -- and was needed thirty years ago when it was starting to be a problem. It's only going to get worse. We are one of the wealthiest nations filled with (a few) brilliant minds. We can solve this problem.

What's Hubie gonna do about that?!

dharder -
didn't you read the highlights of his plan?
- Employee contributions to pensions will be increased (long overdue)
- New hires will have a different (less generous) plan than the one current employees have (contractually obigated to maintain)
- health/benefits premiums will increase
- retiree health plan will require premiums
There are other things but these are the ones I remember reading.

"Maybe the CTA should drastically cut services AND have the trains and buses that are running run on a reliable time schedule. This way riders will know how to plan their trips accordingly and have a reasonable fare price."
This point should be reiterated over and over and over again. Of course, the trains are going to take time and money to fix. Still, they should never have reached the point they're at now and a top priority should be planning for the future to ensure such disrepair is never seen again. A reliable train signaling system using modern technology is also needed.
The other thing that I find inexcusable is the way buses function. Everyone knows about bus bunching... but shouldn't there be more outrage about the amount of money (in gas, worker pay) this simply wastes? Every single day I see 2 less-than-half filled buses riding together. I understand that bunching would be expected to occur during rush hours, but during rush hours I consistently see 4 buses bunched (I literally see this happening 3-4 days a week with the 8 bus). I'm not even concerned now with the unreasonably long waits for 2 buses at once. But if bunching was largely eliminated (with relatively cheap and available GPS technology, for example) you could run less buses with the same customer wait, same revenues, and at half the cost. This cost could go to things like, say... keeping the X4 around for another year. If the CTA can't demonstrated competancy with managing bus routes, they don't deserve Springfield's money.

A simple question I haven't found the answer to yet:

What is the CTA considering "rush hour" or "peak hours"? Raising fees from, say, 8am - 9am is a big difference from raising fees from, say, 6am-10am.

Note to dk: "peak hours" are are 6:30-9:30 AM and 4:00 - 7:00 PM.

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