What’s up with the fare hike?

It seems that yet again the Chicago Transit Authority is having trouble making ends meet. Only a few months after budgetary concerns almost forced the CTA to cut 36 percent of all services, a new budget proposal could lead to a 25 cent increase for passengers who use Transit Cards.

While we generally support a fare hike over a service cut, various details about this particular fare hike leave us skeptical. The CTA’s budget issues are long-standing and we doubt that this 25-cent increase is little more than a stop-gap. Before this fare hike passes, a comprehensive analysis should be undertaken by the CTA to ensure that these consistent budget issues aren’t of their own making.

Under the newly proposed budget, those passengers who use Transit Cards or cash will be forced to pay $2.00. It will be possible, however, to avoid the hike by buying a Chicago Card, a new alternative to the Transit Card. It will be available at a handful of retailers but mostly will be ordered online.

Critics have argued that the proposed fare hike places an undue burden on the poor, who often do not have Internet access and will have a hard time purchasing the card. This is a legitimate point, but we also have a hard time figuring out the rationale behind the hike: Is the CTA trying to push new technology or hoping people stick to the old Transit Card and agree to the 25 cent hike? Why doesn’t the CTA just adopt the Chicago Card in its entirety, raise the fare by 25 cents, and begin a badly needed renovation of a 100-year old-transit system?

After not raising fares between 1991 and 2004, we recognize that CTA’s fares are probably lower than they should be. Gas prices are up and the system itself is hardly in ideal shape.

This fare hike, however, is far from the long-term solution the CTA badly needs. Raising fares without a systematic review of how the CTA distributes and manages its funds will do little but set the stage for yet another fare increase in the not-so-distant future.