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Transit trolling: RTA chief on fare hikes; parking contract going out for bid; beware Red Line bandit

As usual these days, there is plenty to report in CTA news and only so many posts to contain them. Regular readers know I generally post once a day and take weekends off. In an effort to catch up some more, here are more news of notes gleaned from other media and the CTA's Web site.

RTA chief shies away from fare hike, service cuts. RTA Executive Director Stephen Schlickman told the Chi-Town Daily News last week that the RTA would do all it could to avoid fare hikes and service cuts in filling the $155 million budget deficit the CTA faces. "The objective is to get through this year without any serious fare increases or service cuts. A significant increase in fares with a serious cut in service would result in a serious fall in ridership," Schlickman said in an interview with Chi-Town. "We're looking really hard at everything: short-term borrowing, shifts from operating revenue to capital, stimulus money."

Schlickman also provided historical perspective on how "there was a massive drop-off in ridership that we didn't recover from for many, many years" after service cuts in the early 1980s. We hope history doesn't repeat itself.

CTA prepares to put parking contract out for bid. Just a few months after a hefty increase in its rates at Park & Ride lots, the CTA is readying a Request for Proposals soliciting companies to operate, manage and maintain the CTA's parking facilities. I learned this by looking at the details behind the many ordinances passed at the March 11 board meeting.

Ordinance No. 009-31 calls for extending the current contract of Standard Parking Corp. "on a month-to-month basis for up to nine months to keep this source of revenue flowing while a new RFP soliciting companies for a replacement parking facilities agreement is put in place." Of course, this doesn't mean Standard is out of luck. They could still bid and win. But the CTA is certainly doing the right thing -- as they are legally mandated to do -- in finding the best price -- especially in these tight financial times.

Red Line bandit Be on the lookout for the Red Line robber. No, no. He's not some guy doing stick-ups on the Howard-Dan Ryan. The FBI suspects him in the robberies of at least six Chicago banks located near stops on the Red Line. The latest alleged heist occurred last Friday at the Chase Bank branch at 850 S. Wabash St.

The FBI is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the suspect, considered armed and dangerous. An FBI press release describes him as a black male, age 30 to 35, between 6-foot and 6-foot-2-inches tall, weighing 200 pounds, with a medium build and beard. He has worn sunglasses, a dark colored baseball cap and a black bomber jacket during all of his robberies

From the WBBM radio story

"He is also suspected of five other robberies including the:

  • Chase Bank branch at 340 N. State St. on Dec. 5 and March 10.
  • North Community Bank branch at 5342 N. Broadway.
  • Bank of America branch at 7900 S. Halsted on Jan. 23.
  • MB Financial Bank branch at 6443 N. Sheridan Rd., also on March 10."

Comments

["A significant increase in fares with a serious cut in service would result in a serious fall in ridership."]

Glad to hear that service cuts are indeed a last resort. There's really no good time to institute severe service cuts, but an economic downturn has got to be the worst time to do so.

Why would moving the operating budget to capital help? Isn't the shortfall because of inadequate operating revenue?

Is the Red Line Robber any relation to the Pink Line Panty Bandit?

He looks like Jerome Bettis...

So, the Red Line Bandit is robbing banks near the Red Line. Is this correlated in any way with his choice of getaway vehicle? Probably wouldn't be a good idea. Remember the cautionary tale of the guy who robbed a bank in Lincoln Square and then boarded a Western local where he was apprehended by police.

A Western Ave. local? By Lincoln Square?? I think he might have been better off being apprehended. Anybody who would use a Western bus as a getaway vehicle needs to be brought in off the streets for his own good.

Sargas:

I didn't know what you were talking about until I read the Chi-Town piece, and you are correct, Schlickman is confused.

It started with an operating shortfall of $155 million, apparently caused by the RTA approving a budget despite the fact that the RTA should have known by Dec. 2008 that tax receipts had fallen. Then, how can they transfer operating funds to capital, when there is already a operating deficit?

There may be the additional point that capital funds are necessary, but that has nothing to do with the $155 million RTA blooper.

The actual question is whether Schlickman is taking responsibility for the blooper, in the sense of doing something to avoid the fare hikes and service cuts the CTA says will result. Talk to a website is cheap.

These RTA comments are troubling, only in the sense you have to think hard about what Mr. S is saying. His solutions included ..."short-term borrowing, shifts from operating revenue to capital, stimulus money..."
As has already been pointed out, he clearly mispoke on the second point: he meant shifting capital to operating.
I might add that the last point is the same thing: "stimulus" basically means capital, so what he's saying is that transit should spend its stimulus to cover its operating deficits. In fact, Dan O's post from a couple weeks ago pointed out that the CTA is spending $80m on "preventative maintenance." Someone could make the case that's what CTA's proposing on doing; unless this is PM above and beyond what they were going to do this year.

The big problem here is that this solution by the RTA is doing nothing but pushing off the big pain to a later date--possibly making things worse at that later date. I guess what's happening is that they're saying the sales tax drop is such a strange anomoly, that some of the revenue will have to come back in the next year or so. So it makes sense to put in place somekind of a "rainy-day" kind of approach. That's ok in this environment.

Bus that can't be all of it: what is being done to solve the longer-term structural problems in transit funding and operations, particluarly at CTA with its escalating costs and pensions? Nothing: his message is: we'll handle it, no cuts, no fares this year. And if his gamble on the sales tax doesn't fan out next year--what then? There already is so much debt out there in transit, there's really no such thing as "short-term borrowing" anymore--it all hurts the long-term.

The CTA at its last Board Meeting was at least a bit more honest in at least keeping on the table, cuts and fare increases, but also mentioning it may be talking to its unions.

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