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Transit roundup

Tuesday, Nov 27, 2007 - Posted by Rich Miller

* I looked through today’s mass transit “deal” stories to find a different angle than we used yesterday, and figured this was as good a place to lead off our coverage as any…

As a high school choir sang “Winter Wonderland” at a tree-lighting ceremony at the Thompson Center Monday, a group of activists tried to drown them out, chanting “Tree lights out, bus lights on!”

The 10 ministers and wheelchair-bound CTA riders crashed the tree lighting, hosted by first lady Patti Blagojevich, to demand action in Springfield on the CTA funding shortfall. […]

“We’re here to tell elected officials enough is enough,” said Roosevelt Watkins, pastor at Bethlehem Star Church and a member of Pastors United for Change. “How can we sing Christmas carols when we know 2,400 people will lose their jobs?”

I don’t know much about that group, but it is a bit different. Rev. Watkins hosted a forum for Hillary Clinton in May, for instance, which allowed her to claim African-American support in Barack Obama’s home turf.

* Anyway, back to transit. Like I said, there’s not much “new” here if you were on the blog yesterday afternoon. Gatehouse

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan now supports a mass transit funding plan backed by House Republicans and Gov. Rod Blagojevich — but the Chicago Democrat’s change of heart still may not be enough to get the transit bailout put into law.

Downstate Senate Democrats reiterated Monday that they will not support any mass transit plan until the General Assembly also approves a public works construction bill.

* Sun-Times

While Madigan now appears more in lockstep with Blagojevich and other legislative leaders about transit funding, his letter was silent about how to backfill the $385 million budget hole that redirecting gas-tax dollars to the RTA would leave. That’s among a host of issues that could derail the transit-bailout train in Springfield.

Madigan’s spokesman, Steve Brown, said the speaker intends to work with Blagojevich to fill the gas-tax hole by ending corporate tax breaks.

Other lawmakers have suggested that new forms of gambling — including a Chicago casino, additional casinos outside Chicago and slot machines at horse tracks — could plug that gap and also fund a multibillion-dollar state construction program for roads, schools and other projects.

David Dring, a top Cross aide, was cautiously optimistic about Madigan’s new stance but stressed the construction program still has to be part of the overall transit-funding equation.

* Bethany Jaeger adds to this…

As far as plugging the hole in the state’s general fund, Madigan’s spokesman, Steve Brown, mentioned the governor’s proposal to end some corporate tax breaks. “The speaker has been supportive of closing corporate loopholes in the past,” Brown said. “I suspect it’ll be something that will be addressed down the road. I don’t envision that being addressed this week.” He said the state Constitution limits the legislature to discussing a specific topic designated by the special session.

* Tribune

RTA Executive Director Steve Schlickman said it was too soon to tell if Madigan’s move is a breakthrough.

* Mark Brown had an interesting take today

If the House can approve the transit funding proposal Wednesday, when Blagojevich has called the Legislature into special session, that will put the onus on the Senate, where leaders of both parties have indicated a transit measure will go nowhere without the accompanying construction program.

If all they’re worried about is who should take the blame, that’s easy.

Blame Mayor Daley. It really is mostly his fault that it’s come to this point, which probably hasn’t been emphasized enough.

He’s the one who continued to milk the agency for its political patronage benefits while failing to grasp the depth of its problems or at least to treat them with the proper urgency until the system came to the brink of collapse. It’s his crisis more than theirs.

Blame Daley and move on.

Daley has effectively skirted blame in this mess, so Brown is right that some fingers ought to start pointing at hizzoner.

* Sen. Dale Righter puts his own spin on the situation…

What is the solution? First, the service reductions and fare increases that transit officials have warned us about should be implemented — they would be far from the catastrophe that the “doomsday” rhetoric has led some to believe. In fact, they consist of entirely reasonable and necessary fare increases of approximately 10%, and elimination of duplicative routes. After that is achieved, the systems’ compensation and oversight structures must change — they have become bloated and ineffective, as demonstrated by last year’s fire and the resulting NTBS findings. Then, and only after then, should there be a serious discussion of additional funding.

* But the CTA Tattler counters some of that logic…

[GOP Rep. Sandy Cole of Grayslake] makes this spurious argument in favor of a fare increase:

“”Between 2001 and 2006, the price of gasoline has increased 68 percent, but CTA cash fares have only increased 15 percent. It is fair to expect riders to pay for increased fares, just like motorists have to pay more for gasoline.”

Carfree Chicago has a good retort to that argument in comments on a post about the subject at Illinois Transportation Issues:

“Why should transit riders be punished for using an efficient form of transportation not affected as much by the shifts in the price of gasoline? Trains don’t run on gasoline. It justs sounds like pure whining — we have to pay more so you should too!”

I’d like the Republicans to fully show their cards on what that fare increase should look like.



  1. - Carl Nyberg - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 9:49 am:

    The gas price metric is kinda BS.

    I think the lowest CTA fare I can remember is $0.25, but that might have been a child’s fare. Let’s say it was $0.35.

    I can remember gas going for $0.679 per gallon.

    Currently the CTA fare is $1.75 and gas is about $3.10.

    So, CTA fares are up by a factor of five and gas is up by a factor of 4.6.

    So, CTA fares have already gone up faster than the rate of gasoline inflation.

    During this time how much has the road infrastructure been expanded? How much has the public transportation infrastructure?

  2. - Leroy - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 9:50 am:

    The argument that if the price of public transportation goes up, fares should go up sounds like solid economic logic to me.

    The logic of that is going to be lost on anyone who demands a cheap, reliable ride to work every day.

  3. - DumberThanYouThink - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 9:50 am:

    Looks like Righter and Cole are trying to steal our new slogan. I’ll show them. I’ll hold that BIMP bill for another week and skip the hearing date on my lawsuit against Madigan. (P.S. if someone has the number call Koch and tell him not to send more dopey letters)

  4. - Johnny USA - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 10:01 am:

    Hey ‘Carfree Chicago’ - how about the rising costs of health care? Should that not be factored into the costs of how much public transportation is charging for a ride?

    You can poopoo the cost of energy away, can you poopoo the cost of health care away?

  5. - Just Asking - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 10:17 am:

    People are missing the point in regard to what Rep. Cole is saying. She could ride a Metra train from Grayslake, where she lives, to Union Station. A ride on the North Central rail will set her back $5.55 one way. Option two would be drive. The trip is roughly 50 miles. Let’s say gas is $3.10/gallon and the car gets 20 miles/gallon. She spends $7.75 in gas only. What is the cost of parking these days in Hizzoners city? Right now the state pays reimbursement for mileage of .485/mile. Mileage reimbursement takes into account things like depreciation of the automobile. 50 miles at .485/mile equals $24.25 for a one way trip to the city. The point of this is what is the cost to get from point A to point B? Clearly, mass transit is a bargain.

  6. - Greg - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 10:25 am:

    I think some of you may be confused about how goods are priced. As a rule of thumb, there’s not some arbitrator calculating your opportunity cost, and then pricing the good slightly below it. If they did, then United should charge me .9(2k miles of gas + 4 days’ time) = more than $250.

    I get a kick out of it, being the biggest market cheerleader in general, but them seeing those principles applied so strangely. We’re over-thinking it here.

  7. - Little Debbie - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 10:31 am:

    The question remains will Tom Cross and House Republicans kill a mass transit solution a second time. I doubt it. As Senator Cullerton said at a town hall meeting last night, how could Cross kill a solution for the CTA when the solution is his own idea. If he does, he would screw Metra, Pace and CTA riders because he wants a massive expansion of gambling. I think he has to support his own solution to help the RTA.

  8. - gulag - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 10:31 am:

    Electricity prices have risen significantly since 2001, so Cole’s point, although inartful, is still somewhat valid.

  9. - Cassandra - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 10:31 am:

    Interesting that one of Pastor Watkins’ big concerns about the CTA crisis is the “2400 people”
    who might, according to him, lose their jobs.
    One assumes that the very political Pastor Watkins
    (how IS it that all these politically active churches get to keep their nonprofit status, anyway?) is a firm believer in very large servings of Democratic patronage pork.

  10. - Six Degrees of Separation - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 10:35 am:


    The “free” highway system hasn’t been expanded all that much in the last 30-40 years. The short EOE is the only new freeway I can think of in the last 30 in Chicago & the collars. There have been a few lane additions to the freeways, but these limited expansions fall short of serving the apparent demand; the recent Ryan rebuild didn’t gain any new lanes, just improvements on what was already there. Otherwise, you have to pay to play on the tollways, I-355 being the newest at 1989 and the recent expansion in 2007. Public rail transit has seen some expansion, with the CTA Orange Line, North Central, Elburn extension, Manhattan extension, and Metra Electric extension. Bus service has been a series of sporadic ups and downs, but I understand the CTA is now running more routes than 20 years ago, while Pace has made a lot of changes, adding some routes and services and cutting others.

  11. - Six Degrees of Separation - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 10:48 am:


    You would also be surprised at how much public transportation is on bus vs. rail (Total CTA passenger miles are delivered about 45% by bus or demand-response vehicle, for example). Most buses do, in fact, currently consume oil-based fuels and are dependent on a system of roads to enable their journeys. So much of the transportation debate is framed as a “roads vs. transit” battle when, in fact, the roads are a vital part of public transit. And there is no doubt that diesel fuel costs are a factor in the operation of those buses.

  12. - Anon - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 10:55 am:

    You gonna blame Da Mare?

    I dunno about tat, My Friend. Bad tings could happen. Da Mare don’t take no blame, see?

  13. - irishpirate - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 11:39 am:

    Mark Brown is absolutely right. The majority of the blame belongs to “da mare”.

    The CTA is loaded with political patronage in “management” positions. Many of the “managers” come over to the CTA after retiring with lucrative “CITY” pensions.

    Most of the “managers” do little.

  14. - fedup dem - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 11:47 am:

    Daley hasn’t helped matters much by not increasing the city’s paltry $3 million a year contribution to the CTA, unchanged since Daley became Mayor in 1989.

  15. - Carl Nyberg - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 11:56 am:

    If my point wasn’t explicitly clear, Rep. Sandy Cole is cherry picking five years that have had the greatest increase in gasoline price to compare to public transportation fares.

    If the window is expanded to greater than 20 years, Cole’s argument doesn’t even stand on its own legs, much less deal with the criticism that she’s comparing two different things.

    With increasing fuel prices we should increase society’s commitment to public transportation, not decrease it.

  16. - Six Degrees of Separation - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 12:20 pm:


    With increasing fuel prices, public transportation will become an even bigger relative bargain than it has been (for the areas where it can be used effectively, like Chicago), so attracting riders and public support should be no problem. I don’t like fare increases any more than the next guy, but if I can have unlimited rides on the CTA for less than $100/month, it will pay for itself after 3 or 4 days of saving gas, maintenance and parking fees even if I already own a car.

    For those who live and work in and beyond the exurbs, there is little hope of ever having more than a token public transportation system. Therein lies the biggest hope of alternative energy sources for cars, trucks and even ag machinery. Agriculture and feeding the cities often gets overlooked in the debate on oil and transportation. Oil, for all its negatives, has provided the world with its richest agricultural bounty ever, and will need to be replaced if its supply can’t be sustained or its price becomes too prohibitive.

  17. - steve schnorf - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 12:28 pm:

    It’s a beautiful day in the Speaker’s neighborhood. Can you say “triangulate”?

  18. - He makes Ryan Look like a Saint - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 1:03 pm:

    I live 20 miles from Springfield, I drive every day my cost for the drive has gone up, there is nobody giving me tax money for my trouble. I say make them raise the fees to ride it would still be a better deal.

  19. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 1:05 pm:

    ===there is nobody giving me tax money for my trouble===

    Um, perhaps you missed the massive military presence in the Middle East?

  20. - Huh? - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 1:11 pm:

    I drive only because there isn’t public transit between where I live and where I work. If given the alternative, I would take the train.

    When I was in school, I had the opportunity to take the CTA from Forest Park to UIC. I loved the ride. That lasted until my oldest daughter started pre-school at UIC and I didn’t think it was a good idea to ask a 3 year old to walk 1/2 mile on either end of the train ride.

  21. - Greg - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 1:47 pm:

    Let’s try this again: some of you basically want to reduce subsidies based on the value of the gasoline inflator. So you’re connecting this service to a commodity that is in some cases related to but one cost (diesel) for the service, and in other cases not related to the price inputs at all. The fact that it costs more for you to drive is hardly a reason to spend subsidizing transportation.

    I drive something that gets 9-10 mpg city. I know I’m synthetically short gasoline, just as most of you are long housing. So you’re exposed to a commodity; fine, deal with it. Don’t misplace your anger.

  22. - plutocrat03 - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 2:28 pm:

    It would seem to me that representative Cole meant fuel, rather than gasoline specifically. It is a cheap shot to criticize her for the use of the word gasoline rather than fuel.

    Can anyone argue that diesel costs have not risen during the time period in question?

    We also have to accept that the costs of electricity for the rapid transit system have gone up substantially.

    Since the claim is that the fare box is to cover 50% of operational costs, those in charge need to do so. To do that you have to account for energy costs, labor costs and supplies costs. The index of these critical items needs to be updated at least annually so that the necessary fare increases are not huge. If a miracle happens and the system can lower its costs then the fares could be lowered.

  23. - Truthful James - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 2:30 pm:

    There is a point all appear to have overlooked. Gas tax money should go first for transportation projects, even public transportation. The State has neglected to carve this out and shoves it in the General Fund where, being fungible, it sinks beneath the surface. and must surely be homogenized and shoved into pork projects.

    Not much different than the lottery money which was supposed to go to education projects and was also shoved into the General Fund.

    That is just purposefully lousy accounting by the politicians. The State Comptroller should be keeping his records with Fund Accounting and everybody could see the waste and misappropriation.

    If the State and the Four Tops want money for non transpostation needs, tell us. TRhe General Fund honeypot needs to be foreshortened.

  24. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 2:32 pm:

    TJ, once again most of the negative opinions on this topic don’t match up at all with reality.

    THIS IS THE STATE SALES TAX ON GASOLINE, not the gas tax. The sales tax money is sent to GRF. The gas tax goes to roads, SoS, state police, etc.

    Please, learn the difference before you spout. I’m really tired of pointing this out.

    Hey, that rhymed.

    …Adding… It’s the regional portion of the sales tax as well. Not statewide collections.

  25. - Greg - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 2:38 pm:


    Sorry, I wasn’t trying to make the gas versus gasoline distinction. I meant that diesel–the 1 input related to gasoline–is but one of the many inputs for public transportation. Driving has a much higher exposure to fuel costs. Regardless, my point is that “I have to pay more for gas” is really irrelevant to the debate over transit subsidies.

    What I don’t like is (what I believe to be) the poor application of “market rules” to this good. There seems to be consfusion that related goods must move in lockstep.

  26. - Greg - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 2:38 pm:

    I mean, of course, gas versus diesel. I’m a god-awful multi-tasker.

  27. - A Citizen - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 2:53 pm:

    This transit issue is getting whiskers almost as long as Oberweis’ perpetual campaign for . . . any office.

  28. - plutocrat03 - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 2:56 pm:


    I think that Rep Cole was trying to point out that as costs go up, those using the service should pay their fair share. The promise for years has been the the fare box should cover half the operating costs. Those running the system delay passing costs on until it it a big deal. If the fares were to rise a nickel a ride when needed, the goal 50% of fare box would remain in sight and it would not be a shock to the riders when the game of catch up occurs.

    There are al least 2 issues with the redirection of state funds to mass transit.

    One is that that money was being consumed by something so what is going to feed that budget line?

    Secondly the state is woefully behind on infrastructure construction and maintenance. I would argue that it was a mistake to let the the state sales tax on gasoline ever go into the GRF. It should go into the highway fund where it can be leveraged with the federal share dollars to whittle away at the backlog.

    Mass transit is still only available to a small percentage of the general population, but the proponents want us all to pay for it. The transportation model remains as a feeder to the central city. Well, each year a smaller percentage of the workforce needs to go to the central city. Imagine how much could be saved if half of these folks could telecommute!

    Lets get the fare box collections to 50% of the operational costs and keep them there before we resume our fine whine about needing more money from those who do not get the services.

  29. - steve schnorf - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 6:55 pm:

    Rich, stop confusing James. And, btw James, how much lottery money goes to GRF. I think I missed that while I was at the Bureau.

  30. - Bill - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 7:50 pm:

    The lottery money goes to fund education and that much less from the GRF goes to fund education. You should know, you did it. Under which shell lies the pea?
    And quit picking on Truthful who is always anything but.

  31. - A Republican - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 8:33 pm:

    >I’d like the Republicans to fully show their cards on what that fare increase should look like.

    Cost of a ride from O’Hare to the Loop: $1.75
    Cost of a ride from San Francisco Int’l Airport to downtown San Fran: $5.15.

    So I’d say $5.15 is a good place to start

  32. - Max Maxwell - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 9:18 pm:

    FYI to various commenters: It cost me $2.00 to get on the El last week, not $1.75.

    Also: A Republican is free to move to San Francisco. Please…

  33. - steve schnorf - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 9:34 pm:

    so if we discontinued the lottery tomorrow, we would increase education funding by an equal amount of GRF? I don’t think so.

  34. - Arthur Andersen - Tuesday, Nov 27, 07 @ 10:21 pm:

    Steve-good posts today. Forgive Bill and his off-point analogy. Sounds like he’s trying to be a

  35. - Leroy - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 8:08 am:

    Max - All the Republicans *have* moved out of Chicago and Cook County. Haven’t you noticed?

  36. - PCC - Wednesday, Nov 28, 07 @ 1:46 pm:

    Fuel and power are just 7.6% of CTA’s budget. Rising health care costs matter far more to CTA than rising gas prices.

    Righter is very wrong. As I’ve pointed out, the “duplicative” bus lines to be cut just by CTA move more people every day than the Kennedy Expressway, whose overnight removal I’m sure he would describe as “catastrophic.”

  37. Pingback Pick up and go « west north - Wednesday, Dec 5, 07 @ 12:13 pm:

    […] Over in the UK, $100/bbl oil has led gasoline across the magic 1.00 line: one pound per litre. That translates to about $9.50 a gallon, so really, quit whining about gas prices in America already. […]

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