The Real Cost of Riding the Rails

With no labor cutbacks and no fare hikes, CTA must cut services

By Matt Bartosik
|  Tuesday, Nov 17, 2009  |  Updated 12:50 PM CDT
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The Real Cost of Riding the Rails

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It appears the CTA's two biggest spending problems are expensive labor costs and insufficient fares

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It seems like every few weeks, the CTA is wielding a 'doomsday' card and threatening to raise fares.

And with good reason. The Chicago Tribune reports that the CTA is projecting a $300 million deficit in 2010.

It appears the CTA's two biggest problems are expensive labor costs and insufficient fares.

In 2010, the average hourly rate for full-time bus drivers and rail operators will be $28.45 and $26.40, respectively.

That's more than some pilots make.

But current labor union contracts call for a 3-percent (or more) wage increase this year, next year, and the year after. Meanwhile, non-union workers have had to go 3 straight years without a raise, and they're facing yet another

Despite pleas from the CTA board to help cut costs, union leaders have refused to budge on their contracts.

"We're not giving up anything," said Darrell Jefferson, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241, which represents bus drivers and bus mechanics. Union leaders argue that employees have already been forced to pay more toward their pensions and health care costs.

The current fare setup isn't helping either.

According to the CTA, when taking into account full-priced fares, reduced fares, special passes and free rides, the average collected fare is only 98 cents per rider.

But the average cost of service per rider is $7, when including such expenses as gas, wages, maintenance, etc.

So, despite the $166-million funding deal Gov. Quinn set up last week, riders can expect plenty of service cuts to come:

  • 1,000 union employees will be laid off
  • 100 non-union administrative staffers will be cut
  • 9 express bus routes will be eliminated
  • All bus and train routes will start service later, end earlier, and/or run less frequently.

But hey, as long as there are no fare hikes, riders should be happy, right?

Matt Bartosik is a social media sovereign and a native Chicagoan.

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