A Cool Way to Travel


By Gilbert Jimenez

Date of Publication: October 15, 1999
Source: Chicago Sun-Times


The CTA's growing ranks of riders will find working air conditioners on every bus by 2003, but no changes in fares or routes under a spending plan for the year 2000 proposed Thursday.

"It is good news" for the CTA and its riders, CTA President Frank Kruesi said.

About 50 percent of the CTA's 1,876 buses are without air conditioning now, and the agency would retrofit older vehicles and buy new buses with air. Nearly all would be ready in three years.

"People thought that having the boss riding the buses wouldn't make any difference. Well, let me tell you, I found out firsthand that some of those buses get hot in the summer," Kruesi said.

Over five years, the CTA would also pay for 142 new rail cars, 1,000 new bus shelters, renovation of 20 rail stations, security cameras on all buses and a new system for paratransit reservations, Kruesi said.

Design work would continue for rebuilding the Blue Line/Douglas L and on platform improvements to the Ravenswood/Brown Line, officials said.

Helping pay for the improvements is a rise in CTA ridership. From January through August of this year, the agency gave about 12 million more rides than in the same period in 1998. And that meant more money from fares.

"A few years ago, ridership was at a low point, and less than 20 percent of our capital needs were addressed. . . . We've now seen two successive years of ridership increases and can budget nearly 70 percent of the capital improvements we need," said agency Chairman Valerie Jarrett.

The new CTA budget allots $841.1 million for operations, up 4.7 percent from 1999.

The agency expects to fund $409 million in improvements--up $174 million over this year, officials said. Gov. Ryan's Illinois FIRST program is responsible for much of the increase in the capital program, Kruesi said.

Pace, meanwhile, seeks an across-the-board 10-cent fare increase, and Metra's $770 million budget proposal for next year includes a $362 million capital program--up 30 percent over 1999.

Metra riders will not face a fare increase because revenues went up as ridership increased and also because costs have been reined in, officials said.

The agency is proposing to buy 26 new locomotives and more than 200 new train cars. It also would install a second track on portions of the North Central Service, continue bridge replacement and expand the SouthWest Service as well as the Union Pacific West Line.

The Pace board has approved a $160 million spending plan that would add 10 cents to its $1 and $1.15 fares and include money for new buses.

The agencies' preliminary budget proposals face public comment and must get final approval by the RTA, which meets in December.