CTA riders hit by new fare hikes

Adam Sege

Just after 8 a.m. Tuesday, Jewel Hillard waits on the Davis Street El platform for a train to take her home after her night shift as a security officer. It’s a familiar routine for Hillard, 53, who commutes six days a week between her home in Rogers Park and her two jobs.

But after the second Chicago Transit Authority fare increase in three years took effect Jan. 1, she said she now pays more than $50 a week for her commute.

“Terrible,” she said, describing the fare increase. “That’s the way I feel from my heart. And I’m quite sure a lot more people feel the same.”

In an effort to counter rising costs, the CTA raised fares by roughly 15 percent Jan. 1 after scrapping a proposed 20 percent hike. Bus rides jumped from $1.75 to $2 for both Transit Card and Chicago Card users. El fares increased from $2 to $2.25 for Transit Card users, and from $1.75 to $2.25 for commuters using the Chicago Card.

Hit hard by the recession, the transit industry is already coping with shrinking revenue sources, Northwestern economics Prof. Ian Savage said.

“The CTA has kind of been squeezed from two directions here,” Savage said. “Less money from the riders, and less subsidies (from the state). So I think this could indicate you could have a pretty rough time financially at the CTA and at other transit agencies in the next year or so.”

Adding a fare increase to that situation will likely further decrease ridership, he said.

The CTA offers a far different perspective. CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski said in an e-mail that ridership has increased in 10 of the past 11 years. Since the fare increase, she said, the number of riders has actually gone up.

“A weakened economy, winter weather and increasingly congested roadways are some of the factors as to why more commuters are continuing to take public transit than ever before,” Hosinski wrote. “Despite the fare increase and lower gas prices, CTA ridership increased 5.4 percent over last year.”

Still, the fare increase leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of many commuters. Several El passengers riding the Purple Line, such as Sylvia Gillis, 62, shared harsh words about CTA service in light of the fare increases.

“I think the trains are in dismal condition,” said Gillis, who is paying an additional $7 per week due to the fare increases. “You always feel like you’re going to go off the track.”

Not everyone on the train felt the same way, however. Brodie Austin, 30, said the fare increase will likely hit home once he sees how much is deducted from his paycheck. But for Austin, who commutes on the El five days a week, the convenience of the CTA is worth the extra cash.

“I work down on the Gold Coast, so for me it’s nice to not have to drive down from Evanston to downtown Chicago five days a week,” Austin said. “I’d rather have a CTA that works sufficiently and properly and on its tracks than save more fares.”

The CTA’s troubles are part of a larger trend, Savage said.

“In New York, they just increased the transit fares, and in Washington, D.C., there were long discussions last year about service cuts,” he said. “What we’re seeing here in Chicago is not unique.”

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