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Will Chicago’s Fare Hike Stall Transit Ridership Growth?

9:25 AM PST on January 14, 2013

Today, Chicago transit riders are seeing their first fare hike in four years. Though the base fare is unchanged, multi-ride passes are up, including fares for seniors and the disabled.

Steven Vance at Network blog Grid Chicago says the circumstances surrounding the increase are reminiscent of "Taken For A Ride," a 1996 documentary about the "systematic dismantling of rail transit" in American cities. Writes Vance:

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Sharon Banks, General Manager, AC Transit was interviewed in the film and said, "It’s called a spiral unto death. You cut back service, you lose passengers, you lose revenue, you lose the confidence of your ridership that you can be effective and meet their needs. This is happening all over the country: over half of the transit operators are needing to either raise fares, cut service, or do both."

In the CTA’s case, both happened. Service was cut on some routes (with some routes being eliminated entirely), while increased on other routes. Ridership has increased year-over-year for several years. The CTA’s 2013 budget recommendations noted that ridership was up 3.9% over the 18 months that Rahm Emanuel has been mayor. The Chicago Tribune today published that Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) expects the fare increase to have a "no ridership growth" impact. While somewhat ambiguous, this leads me to believe that RTA has predicted that the fare increase won’t produce a negative ridership growth.

Grid Chicago has a list of recommended responses to the fare hike, which include lobbying legislators from City Hall to Congress, and all of which are considerably more thoughtful than the glib advice first offered by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Though he backpedaled soon after, last November Emanuel basically told Chicagoans -- including transit riders who don't own cars -- "If you don't like it, drive."

Elsewhere today: Streets.MN proposes capping Minnesota highways. Seattle Transit Blog critiques that city's bike master plan. And as Grand Central Terminal marks its 100th year, Second Avenue Sagas says New York City is basically one big transit-oriented development.

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