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Sour economy could prompt CTA fare hike

With real estate transactions and sales tax revenues both down this year, and fuel costs way over budget, the CTA will have to seriously consider a fare increase for next year.

The Sun-Times reports that the CTA is expecting to get just half of the expected $100 million in revenue from the real estate transfer tax increase. Also, revenues from the sales tax hike in the six-county area is about 9% lower than expected.

Throw in the fact that high fuel bills could put the CTA budget $25 million in the red, plus the $40 million price tag on free rides for seniors and low-income disabled, and we're looking at a big budget deficit.

The last fare increase in 2006 raised the cash fare to $2. Be prepared next year to pay $2 on your Chicago Card and $2.25 in cash.

Comments

Make public transit free for everyone.

Of course the revenue from the sales tax hikes is lower than expected, people are buying whatever they can outside of Cook County.
So the Toddler's 1% for his friends & family is now biting the CTA in the ass!

If you're going to raise fares, then make the cash fare $3 in an effort to get people to stop paying cash.

As for free transit, it's a great idea, but the politicians & the unions won't ever go for it.
It makes far too much sense!
But then all the people involved in fare collection will be laid off, that's why the unions will scream.

Brilliant idea...yeah right. Let's raise the rates on those who can least afford it. UC, you know why they pay cash? They don't have enough money to have savings accounts and credit cards. DO you ever think before you type?

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Of course the revenue from the sales tax hikes is lower than expected, people are buying whatever they can outside of Cook County.
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Yep. Everyone is jumping in their cars, and driving out of the county to make those purchases! lol

Okay, I probably shouldn't laugh too hard. There probably are some anti-tax activists who are really poor at budgeting money who don't realize that it's costing them more to drive out of the county to avoid the tax than it would cost them to pay the tax in the county. There will always be people who'll put their principles ahead of their wallet even with the principle is their wallet.

But the simple truth is that sales tax revenue is down because people are spending less. It should't be hard to see that.

Same thing for the real estate transfer tax. It's not that people aren't transfering real estate to avoid the tax. It's just that less real estate is being transfered!


You're right, it doesn't make sense to drive from downtown Chicago to Lake county to make a purchase - but there are a lot of people who now try to make purchases while they are out there. For example, since the tax increases, while I am visiting family in the burbs, I will make sure to stock up out there instead of getting what I need in the city. Same goes for people that work close to the borders. I guess you would need to see whether sales tax revenue is down outside of Cook County to really make a comparison - not sure where to get that data.

How many people are involved with "fare collection" at the CTA? It doesn't seem that it would be a lot of people. No one actually sells tickets or passes. The only thing that I could see is having people run around restocking the fare media in the vending machines.

I'm not so sure that driving out of the county would always cost more. For certain big-ticket items (I'm thinking appliances and such), it might actually make sense to drive out of the county. Overall, though, I tend to think that people are spending less because they have less to spend (not that they have a choice to spend less). If these people get hit up for more money, they will have even less to spend.

You can't tax your way out of a deficit. The city and county need to cut spending and taxes. Having the highest sales tax in the country is not the sort of publicity the area needs. If the city starts losing convention business, its going to hurt in a major way.

"UC, you know why they pay cash? They don't have enough money to have savings accounts and credit cards."

Red herring. You don't need either savings accounts or credit cards to use a Chicago Card, or for God's sake, a Transit Card.

Of course you can tax your way out of a deficit. See, e.g., the federal budget circa 1993.

Of course that doesn't mean it's a good idea in the case of something like public transit -- which we want people to use more of (not less). In an ideal world, the RTA and CTA would be able to tax driving in some way (fuel tax, tolls, parking), but I take it that's politically infeasible. So apparently public transit riders are just screwed.

Free public transit would be great, and it would certainly cost less overall. But the CTA almost certainly takes in more fare revenue than it costs to accomplish fare collection, and so free public transit would require a greater public subsidy. I'm all for it, but even the most optimistic among us can't seriously think it's going to happen in the political environment that exists in this state/county/city at the moment. If anything, idiots like Stroger have this place on the verge of some kind of low-level tax revolt.

The high cash fares idea is a good one, though. The argument that poor people pay cash to save money is either silly or actually cuts in favor of a high cash fare. If you have enough money to commute to work on a cash fare all month, then you're spending around 12% more than it would cost you to buy a 30 day pass.

For a savings of 12%, if you don't have the $75 up front, you'd actually still come out ahead getting (worst case scenario) a payday loan at the beginning of some month so as to get yourself onto a 30-pass routine instead of a cash fare routine. The savings would pile up dramatically over time.

Now, obviously, many people paying cash fares currently don't have the sophistication to realize how poorly they're managing their money. Perhaps a $3 fare is what is needed, then, to get them to consider more economical options. If it makes the CTA some money or saves it some cost at the same time, then this is a win-win. The people a high cash fare would hit the hardest are tourists and other very occasional users, who probably won't care so much since they're probably comparing the cost to what they would otherwise pay in a cab.

Except painhertz, most of those paying cash are also smokers! I watch as they board.
Maybe there's a link between the stupidity of smoking & the stupidity of paying cash.
They should pay more because they slow the bus down.
It takes a fair number of people to maintain all the fareboxes & turnstiles. Getting rid af all of that would also speed up boarding, because then getting on at the back door becomes legal.

I know a number of people that are doing all their large purchases in Lake or DuPage County now to save the money. They do it by combining regular trips.
The city's water bottle tax is also a failure, it's not bringing in the money they expected, people just go over the city limit to buy water.
Both Costco & Sam's Club have stores just outside the limits.

As far as purchasing in Lake County is concerned, you still have to pay the .25% RTA tax increase, as well as the .25% increase that goes into the county transportation coffers. But, at least you aren't paying the 1% Stroger/Sufferdin increase. Also, the bigger chunk of the RTA tax goes to Pace and Metra.

Although purchasing in Lake County has some beneficial effects, as far as us fed up with "democracy" in Chicago and Cook County are concerned, I tend to go along with the bad economy angle, especially with regard to the real estate transfer tax. However, the only real answer is to encourage economic growth in the city, rather than such "far sighted" ideas such as the Big Box ordinance, that forces sales tax generators out of the city. Short of that, the RTA can't go back to the taxpayers again, so either the CTA gets much more efficient, or the fares are going up. Given how the recovery ratio is structured in the 2008 RTA Act, they are going up, anyway.

Finally, let's not forget that the RTA tax increase also applies to food, something that the state and county sales taxes do not.

Let's be realistic for a moment. A $.25 increase, considering how the cost of everything has risen so dramatically over the past year, is reasonable. In addition, one would hope that the 7-day and 30-day passes would increase at a corresponding rate. Yes, it will disproportionately affect the poor, but that's merely an unfortunate biproduct of bad government decisions, both recent and historical. The alternative is decreased service, and I think we can all agree that it's NOT an alternative. Furthermore, a $2.25 bus or train ride from Englewood or Pullman or Uptown or Logan Square or pick-your-neighborhood is still a reasonable deal.

And, let's not forget the 4 million dollars paid to connected "consultants" (There's money to be made in prolonging the problem) to "evaluate" CTA property holdings to "have trains stop in stores."

Of course, there are those who talk about the CTA having to spend money to make money with such deals. This is utter tripe, and complete nonsense. The problem is: The CTA has no money. It can barely finish it's capital projects. (In fact, can it? Wellington is still a skeleton...)

There is nothing reasonable about a $0.25 increase, when the money the CTA has is consistently squandered by its administratively top heavy organization.

The CTA should learn to manage the money it has, before it hits us up for one more thin dime, quarter or nickel. Instead of cutting service, how about they start cutting white shirts? Instead of closing stations, they stop paying consultants to tell them the blazingly obvious?

Expect the shaft in 2009.

I'd love to see a freedom of information request that shows the salaries of the folks at CTA who moved over from the City. I'm guessing most folks got pretty sizeable (read: inexcusable) increases.

It's one thing to say you have to pay folks a lot to lure them from private industry to the public sector, but pretty ridiculous to pay them so highly to jump from one public agency to another. It's all politics--I mean, if they couldn't command a higher salary in one governement job, how can they justify making $100K in another, very similar, govt. job?

Oh, and do you guys really think that the economy and fuel are the ONLY drivers of the budget deficit? What about all of the cleanliness initiatives? What about all of the customer communication stuff? That's not free.

What is the impact for Seniors riding fee? How much has this impacted revenue?

The Tribune said it's costing the CTA $40 million for free senior rides.
They lumped in free disabled rides, but those don't take effect until 60 days after the state law is signed by the governor, who'll probably amend it & add free rides for dwarfs, left-handers, vitiligo sufferers & those born in Serbia.. I haven't heard anything about it being signed by that idiot Blago!

Jesus Christ. There are so many stupid comments on this thread that I don't know where to begin.

"If you're going to raise fares, then make the cash fare $3 in an effort to get people to stop paying cash."

What planet do you live on, UCC? Virtually nobody pays cash anymore since they raised its price a few years ago and (more importantly) got rid of cash transfers. There is nobody to "get to stop paying cash". The few people that do use cash are almost always tourists and other occasional riders who are not going to take the time to get a transit card or Chicago Card. If you raise the price of cash fares, you will probably end up with less revenue since it will not become cost effective for these people to use the service.

"Brilliant idea...yeah right. Let's raise the rates on those who can least afford it. UC, you know why they pay cash? They don't have enough money to have savings accounts and credit cards. DO you ever think before you type?"

No, stupid. You are actually showing even more ignorance than UCC. I have heard several people make the argument you are making. Where on earth is it coming from? That is a serious question. It certainly isn't coming from reality. Do you even ride the CTA? Are you aware that transit cards and Chicago Cards can be purchased with cash? In fact, you cannot even ride a train without at least a transit card. And once you have that, there is no reason why your would be paying a cash fare on a bus. So where in the world did you come to your bizarre conclusion that credit cards and savings accounts were somehow a factor in whether someone has a farecard?

I really hope that those suggesting that public transit should be free will eventually see how utterly stupid this idea is. For one thing, it makes all of us who advacate increased and efficiant public transit look like loons. It is like the people who decide to sleep in a tree for a month in order to protest something about the environment. That makes everyone in the environmental movement look crazy when they really are not. Everybody who drives has to pay a lot of money. It is absurd to suggest people should pay a huge amount for transportation but those who use public transit should not fork over a cent.

For those who have apparently not been following the news, the economy is not very good in the entire country. I'm certainly no fan of Stroger's tax increase, but this is not a cook county issue. Maybe some of the people on this thread never venture out of the county. I don't know.

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Of course you can tax your way out of a deficit. See, e.g., the federal budget circa 1993.
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To a certain extent. Eventually you hit the peak point on the laffer curve, and tax revenue decreases. It sounds like the recent tax increases have gone past that point.

Blago should get rid of the free rides for the elderly. Of course he'd make himself look the big buffoon that he is.

On another note my upass fee has gone up to $90. I think it was $80 last year.

I think it's hilarious how all the asshats that supported scumbag Stroger as a champion of the poor will pooh-pooh the idea of a CTA fare hike for a service that they actually USE.

Nevermind that now virtually 100% of income of the poor- to working-class is now additionally taxed...if you're poor ALL your money gets spent (not just your transportation budget)...and subject to Stroger's tax scheme.

As far as cash-paying customers, i still see them...usually these people are just too stupid and undisciplined to get a Card; not poor.

Let them pay even more.

And sometimes poverty is linked to just plain stupidity and laziness.
Tuff sh*t.

Reuben, CTA has not raised UPass fares in several years, so if your price has gone up it is because your school administration raised it.

Sounds about right. Columbia College is always looking for stuff to tack onto the bill. It's still a very good deal.

Anyways, all of the expressways need to be turned into toll roads. No reason that those of us without a car should have to contribute any funds to reconstruct the edens expressway.

MK, you're an idiot!
You wrote this bullshit: "Virtually nobody pays cash anymore since they raised its price a few years ago and (more importantly) got rid of cash transfers. There is nobody to "get to stop paying cash". The few people that do use cash are almost always tourists and other occasional riders who are not going to take the time to get a transit card or Chicago Card."

Take a ride on the #3 or #4 one day.
Half the riders pay cash, but smoke while waiting for the bus. They're wearing expensive shoes & logo clothing.

It's stupid people that pay cash & unfortunately, poor people are often stupid people!

Hell, I see people regularly paying cash on the 156 and 22/36 as well. Not just "poor" people.

The problem with removing the ability to pay cash altogether is that you can't buy a transit card aboard a bus. So no transit card, no ride. That's not a good solution. But raising cash fares is a good solution. It will use economics to force the last remaining holdouts to switch to AT LEAST Transit Card, and still allow spur-of-the-moment users to pay with cash.

Hell, the buses in NYC don't even take bills. Exact CHANGE only!

Oh, I do see people pay cash on every bus I take, but it's epidemic in any poor area.
They don't seem to have a grasp of budgeting their money.
And don't anyone give me that crap that they don't have enough money to get a reusable/refillable transit card, they do.
They just spend their money today & never think about tomorrow.
A big boost in the cash fare will hopefully cure them of that, at least on the bus.

And I also see people use Chicago Cards on every bus line, but not anywhere as few as in poor areas.

I fail to see what people paying fares in cash has to do with a budget shortfall.

Charging more for cash fares is a good idea. I doubt it will make much difference, but it is an inconvenience for other riders, and you might as well get a little extra for the trouble.

[Virtually nobody pays cash anymore since they raised its price a few years ago and (more importantly) got rid of cash transfers.]

I'm not sure what you mean here, but my experience is certainly different. You might be technically right about this in percentage terms - I'd assume that the percentage of cash-paying riders is very low - but even if only 5% of bus riders pay with cash (which seems a bit low to me), that's a lot of people in absolute terms.

UC, you just want to punish people who aren't like you. It's tragic. I can tell you for a fact that cash rides are far more prevalent than you think and raising cash rides punish the poor. Think what you like. You're wrong.

For everybody debating about the prevalence of cash fare use, why not check the CTA's website? Budget reports from recent years suggest that it's declined from 20% a few years ago to around 5% a year or so ago.

Reuben, a cash fare typically doesn't produce as much net revenue for a transit agency because there's a cost associated with collecting the cash from each bus securely, maintaining the cash collection device on each bus, etc. And that cost is probably more or less the same whether it's 5% of people paying cash fares of 50% (give or take a little extra wear-and-tear), so at the moment there's probably a relatively high fraction of cash fare revenue that is simply going into maintaining the cash fare collection infrastructure.

As for are increases, if the CTA has to increase fares, they should at least limit the increase to the pay-per-ride fares, to encourage more people to upgrade to 30-day passes. That should help ridership in the long run; people are more inclined to use "what they've already paid for" more than if they're paying per ride. More riders for CTA, fewer cars on the road. Good all around.

The Laffer curve doesn't kick in until tax rates are way, way higher than anything anyone would realistically consider. Even Norway doesn't seem to be affected by the Laffer curve, and their taxes are about the highest in the world.

So yes, if they raised sales taxes to 80%, maybe that would decrease revenue. But back here in the real world, all things being equal, higher taxes mean more government revenue -- in the present case, unfortunately, all things are not equal since we're in the midst of a major economic slowdown. It's ridiculous to assume that people driving to another county to buy things is having a bigger impact than a (near?) recession.

It's also ridiculous that our system is set up so that states and municipalities can't do deficit spending, because it creates vicious cycles like this -- just when better access to public transit is needed, it becomes necessary to make public transit more expensive.

The peak tax rate is almost impossible to find. OTH, imagine a commuter from outside cook county deciding whether he wants to buy something from a shop inside of union station or buy it closer to home. Many people have valid reasons to travel outside of the city and many to choose to hold off buying stuff until then.

Painhertz,

You are confused. UC was the one who said that cash fares were very prevelant. In fact, he or she made the astonsishing statement that half of the people on certain bus routes still pay with cash. But, in any case, the post after yours by Adam Kotsko has confirmed what I said, which is that few people use cash. So clearly raising that fare without raising anything else (which is what UC suggested) would not make a dent in anything. And it may actually decrease revenue. And I still fail to see why you and others think that raising cash fares would "punish the poor". Whether those who pay with cash are more likely to be poor or not (it certainly has not been my observation that they are), it is extreamly easy for them to avoid doing so by going to one of the thousands of places in the city where they can get a transit card, Chicago Card, or an unlimineted ride pass. It is pretty patronizing for you and others to suggest that poor people are incapable of doing that.

MK: Today I rode a 22 [twice], 145, 290 & the L [twice].
I saw a total of 5 cash fares, total.
Last week I rode the #4 [twice] between the Loop & 58th.
I saw over a dozen cash fares.
The people who pay cash have no understanding of how they're already paying more, maybe raising the cash fare will finally get them to understand they need to learn how to budget their money properly.
So take a ride like that one day & see what I saw, large numbers of very foolish people paying cash!
On the #4, maybe one other person besides me has a Chicago Card, on the #147 it's one after another.

Okay, between the Loop & 58th you saw over a dozen cash fares. And only one other person besides you had a Chicago Card.

Something isn't adding up, unless you were riding very late at night. Even then it seems like your counts would be off.

I think I'll put my stock in the official stats, and discount your observations.

As for the people not understanding they're paying more, how do you know that? Are we to believe your mind reading skills are far superior to your counting skills?

CTA has done a very good job of discouraging cash fares already. I don't think you're going to eliminate that last 5% by raising them any higher. And you're certainly not going to do anything to help the budget situation by doing so, either.

Your desire to teach people who don't think like you a lesson aside, this is a red herring that's distracting people from meaningful discussions regarding the newest budget crisis.

I rode the 147 from Chase to Jackson today and I saw several people pay cash. They all appeared to be well-entrenched in the middle, if not upper-middle, class. I did not do a sniff test to see if they also smoke as I felt that might be somewhat obtrusive.

Yesterday I took the 70 from Western to Cicero. The only people that paid cash were Caucasian seemingly hipster types. Watch the "Crank dat CTA" video on YouTube that someone posted a few months ago, UCc. Bus riders in da' hood know that the weekly is where it's at.

[a cash fare typically doesn't produce as much net revenue for a transit agency because there's a cost associated with collecting the cash from each bus securely, maintaining the cash collection device on each bus, etc.]

Wouldn't these costs also apply to all of the transit card machines? The money people put in those machines doesn't make it to the bank by magic.

I was riding during the day, between the rush hours.
And my observations are accurate, most of those paying cash boarded between Roosevelt & 51st.
Ride the 4 sometime, it's easily one of the strangest rides around. You see the same men, & it's always older men, trying to scam a ride out of a used farecard & then pay cash when the driver tells them the card has already been used. And the drivers are often telling the passengers that it's the same guys that do it every day.
The 4 is also one of the worst run routes as it's almost always bunched up.

I have no idea what you think your observations of people attempting to pay with used farecards has to do with your argument that many poor people pay with cash. In fact, the fact that you emphasize that these are the same people actually undercuts your position that cash fares is almost the norm among poor people. Either this is usual or it is not. If it is "always the same people", it obviously is not.

I also love the fact that you seems to think that the entire area between 51st and Roosevelt is composed of only low income people. You might notice that from Roosevelt on South for a few miles is composed of upper-middle to upper class people. Do you think the people in all those high-rise condo buildings are low income residents? Perhaps you haven't noticed that sometimes the demographics of neighborhoods change over a few decades. Maybe you still carry assumptions based on the the 1970's.

Strannix: You are right, but the cost of collecting cash from farecard machines at around 130 or so rail stations and maintaining those machines is going to be considerably less than the cost of doing that *and* collecting cash from 1000 (or whatever) buses and maintaining the equipment on the buses. So the point is not that the cost of collecting money would be eliminated, but that it would be reduced considerably by centralizing the collection of cash to a much smaller number of devices.

In NYC, I know part of the reason for adding machines that would accept credit cards was that this further reduced the need to collect cash from vending machines. Why the CTA here prefers to send people out to collect cash is a mystery to me. And they certainly do prefer it - they only added the very limited credit card machines when the mayor told them to, and even so the machines don't vend any unlimited passes, even though there's no technological reason why they can't. Odd.

It costs the CTA money to accept credit cards. Credit card companies charge money to use their cards. While a small fee may not sound like a big deal, it ends up being a pretty big percentage for each fare. Say the company charges an interchange fee of $0.25. Well, that's 12% of a $2 fare. CTA still has to pay for the paper card and the labor cost to encode the card, but now it has to pay an additional $0.25 to get the card into your hands. I'm betting that if they (the CTA) try to pass on the fee with a user surcharge (like the utilities companies do when you use a credit card), the public would cry foul.

I believe that some credit card companies are willing to negotiate fees, especially with charities and some not-for-profits.

Nonetheless, all of these transactions become electronic and pretty much instantaneous...eliminating a HUGE amount of manpower, time and loss to theft of manually handling cash.

Not to mention the brain-dead yuppie / boo-hoo underclass fools fumbling with their pocket change in one hand and overpriced coffee / breakfast beer in the other...holding up the bus...again.

Oh, and also...i don't think that you can charge a single ride to a credit card...or can you?
I hope not.
What needs to happen is to teach twits to take advantage of CTA's Chicago card offer:
a $2 bonus for every $20 of added value, and fare protection.
Waaay cheaper, a bonus and protection if you lose your card.
If morons don't want to sign on for this, screw 'em and charge 'em $7.00 oper ride, standing room only. $12.00 if you want a seat.

CC companies may be willing to reduce fees, but they likely wouldn't eliminate them.

Who will reconcile the credit card billing? Will you add another department or at least a few people? Remember when the finance dept. did an audit and found that some money was missing because charges weren't going through Metavante? If the volume of credit card business is going to increase by a lot, you'd need manpower to make sure it's working.

Right now, the minimum cc purchase is $5. They can only get away with that because one day passes are sold at the express vending machines (and currently cost $5). Don't forget, Mastercard/Visa won't let you set a minimum value for credit card purchases--they can only do it because CTA says that the lowest value it sells from the machines is $5. But still, $0.25 on a $5 purchase is 5%.

As an aside, CTA has about 400 million rides/annually. If EVERY ride cost $0.25 more (I know that's an unreasonably high amount, due to transfers, etc., but still), they would bring in $100M more.

If CTA only gets $50M of the expected RETT proceeds (originally expected at $100M) and has a $25M (easy) deficit due to fuel AND lost revenue from seniors, military and disabled folks riding free... well, that's $100M right there. No new service, no cleaner service, nothing.

Well, nothing but a $30K salary increase for people who hold "chief" positions. What is a chief anyway?

I recently moved to Washington, DC from Chicago. I ride the Washington Metro every day to and from work. The Metro is on the "zoned fare" system. The further you travel, the more you pay.

Therefore, I have always wondered why the CTA 'L' does not go to a zoned fare system. Why should someone going from Jefferson Park to Addison pay the same rate as someone going from O'Hare to Jackson? Paying $5.00 to go to the Loop from O'Hare is still a cheaper choice than paying for cab fare.

Robin W,

I've been saying that for years! Washington's Metro, San Fransisco' BART, heck, even Pittsburgh's small light rail line--all of them are on zoned fares!

I have long been a transit advocate, and I never thought I'd actually say this. But I think it's time to start looking at the "P" word--Privatization of the system. At least consider turning over the 'L' to private operators.

A lot of cities have done this and companies like Bombardier and Herzog (I believe) have had experience operating transit under contract.

Re: zone based fares.

It's a great idea, but... There's always a but! In order to implement zone-based fares, you'd need exit turnstiles. That would a study on the space needed and quite possibly expansion of current stations to make them safe according to the fire code. I remember people talking about making a move to zone-based system and the capital investment necessary to make that happen was like $100M. $100M!

Sure, they could make that money back relatively quickly (over the course of a few years of increased fares), but they can't do deficit funding. They're running 40 year old train cars--you think they have $$ laying around to invest in the zone-based system?

Yes, there are credit card fees, but they have them in New York, too, so it's not like that explains the CTA's reluctance to enter the late 20th century.

Also, except for a tiny number of CTA vending machines at the airports and Union Station (and presumably CTA headquarters), the CTA mostly sells unlimited passes through CVS. Is CVS doing this for free out of the goodness of its heart?

On the assumption that it isn't, it's hard to imagine that CVS's take is smaller than what a credit card company would charge for a transaction fee. So the CTA might actually save money by selling its own unlimited passes more widely.

Does anybody know what the arrangement is with CVS?

In response to buying things out of cook county, I only buy Cigarettes outside of the county(an additional $3 in taxes per pack is almost as dumb as smoking). I use CTA and Pace to get there so its not like I can drag home huge amounts of stuff.

I have a Chicago Card and yes, I've been known to pay cash when the times call for it. If my card refuses to work and the bus operator is a douche about it. If my card has been lost or broken I tend to pay the $2 to get to a place where I can get a transit card in the meantime. Hell, if I FORGET my card I'll use cash to make sure I'm not late for work. So yes, there are plenty of legitimate reasons to use cash that dont make you "stupid". If I only took the bus a few times a month, cash would probably be the option I would go with. Sure, saving that quarter adds up over time, but if money is tight putting it in to a transit card for later use is not always the best option. If all you have in your pocket is a $5 bill, and you need milk and a bus ride, are you going to put that $5 on to a transit card? Are you going to go buy your milk, then put that 2$ on a transit card that will have a quarter on it that you cant/dont need to use? Either way you are not getting that quarter back as spendable cash so the diff between a fare card and paying the $2 is meaningless.

I'm betting that most of you have never had the dubious pleasure of living at or under the poverty line and had to learn how to deal with some of these situations. I have. Sometimes what makes sense to you and your way of life just does not mesh with the reality of the poor.

A distance-based fare system is an utterly stupid idea for the CTA. I always want to scream when I see people suggest that. Perhaps that's a bit of an overstatement. In reality, I only want to scream when, like in this thread, people make that suggestion and act as if it is something so obvious that they don't even need to explain why it is a good idea. And it is even worse when, like Robin W., they seem not to understand that this would cause as much as three minutes of extra commuting time since people would need to get in line for the exit turnstiles (it would, of course, take longer than when you are entering the station because everyone would be exiting at the same time when the train arrives). And, as has been stated, this would cost a pretty significant amount of money. But more importantly, even if it would not cost a cent more or take any longer to exit (say, if a device is invented by someone willing to give it to the CTA for free that is able to use magical powers to determine where each passenger is exiting), it still would be a horrible idea. It just doesn't make sense based on demand and the most basic business sense. If you look at the entire rail system you will notice that dramatically more people who travel to and from downtown exit at nearby stations rather than the stations close to the end of the line (obviously I am not including O'Hare and Midway). Compare the amount of people that exit at stations such as Diversey, Southport, Roosevelt, Clark/Division and the Damon and Western stations on the blue line with the amount of people who exit at places such as Morse, Jarvis, the Kedzie brown line stop, or the Montose blue line stop. You will notice that there are always much more people who use the stations I mentioned first. There are two reasons for this. One, the neighborhoods closer to the loop have a more dense population. But also it is because the farther along on the line, the more attractive driving is as an alternative in terms of the time it takes. For those travelling downtown, this is more likely to be a factor during non rush-hour. I would guess that quite a significant majority of people who travel downtown on evenings and weekends from the far northwest side or from Evanston or Skokie drive rather than take the CTA. But that is certainly not the case with those who live near the six or seven red and brown line stations that are closest to the loop on the north side. In fact, my observation is that this is even more true on the weekends when driving downtown is more attractive of an option (because parking is cheaper and there is less congestion). This factor more than makes up for the more expensive cost of gas if you are driving farther. So it would be utterly stupid to charge a higher fare for the people for whom transit is a less disarable choice. It is nuts. And, of course, it would cost tons of money and cause logistical problems to do this nutty thing. Yet there are always people who suggest it (even the Tribune did in some editorials a few years ago and also didn't bother to explain why it thought this was a good idea) without apparently giving it much thought.

That doesn't mean there are not some adjustments that could be made to charge higher fares at certain stations. For example, I think a strong argument can be made that it might make sense to charge a higher fare for those taking the train from O'Hare and Midway. It might also make sense to have a slightly higher afternoon rush-hour fare from downtown (since this is clearly going to deter very few of those riders from using the CTA). But a pure distanced-based fare system would be horrible policy.

Well excuse me MK, but it works very well here in Washington, DC. People here just, well, pay it. No reason why Chicagoans can't either. The flow of people exiting the turnstiles in DC works so well, even with many, many tourists using the system. It is so obvious how it works that even a fourth grader could understand it.

I ride from Foggy Bottom to Gallaudet everyday and have NEVER experienced a delay because someone cannot figure out how to use the system.

And you never directly addressed my point of why someone going one mile on the 'L' should have to pay the same rate as someone going 10. You pay a milage-based rate on Metra.

So why is it a good idea? Well, the increase in revenue, the fact that it would still be cheaper than driving and paying parking, and it would still be better than sitting in traffic.

Even the MetroLink in St. Louis uses a somewhat zoned fare. The fare is higher if you take it from the airport. Doing something like that might work for the CTA, but switching entirely to distance-based fares would require some major changes.

I don't think that comparing Metra and the "L" is useful. Metra has conductors that go through the cars checking tickets and collecting fares. Since it is illegal to cross between cars on the "L", you'd need a conductor in each car.

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