Tagfares

The new CTA budget

[I published an edited version of this post on Streetsblog Chicago.]

The Chicago Transit Authority gleefully tweeted that “fares [will] stay the same” and they’ll continue to “maintain/improve existing services”.

There are so many points to be made.

The medium on which they sent this message is irrelevant because Mayor Rahm Emanuel will parrot this at his press conference this afternoon at the Addison Blue Line station. He’ll say something that he’s holding fares down in order to support working families, yet he (because he runs the agency) can still get projects done, like renovating the Addison station to be accessible.

Fares should go up frequently, instead of making big jumps every 3-5 years. The price of things changes much more frequently and it’s what an agency providing such an important transportation service needs to do to be less constrained in making buses and trains run. And planning and funding for more buses and trains, under the strain of growing ridership. The CTA has the expertise to develop a long-term plan that sets out fare increases annually, removing the surprise, “Will this be the year?”

Fares should go up in increments smaller than quarters of a dollar! 0.25, 0.50, 0.75, and 1.00 are not the only choices available. Requiring riders who pay in cash – who become rarer each day – to pay with dollar bills and quarters isn’t a “convenience”, it’s annoying. It gives the CTA less flexibility in settling on the right price, and it means I can’t use these dimes and nickels that are piling on my nightstand. Quarters are for laundry.

“Fares will stay the same” is what Emanuel said two years ago when the price of passes was increased. Apparently causing people to spend more money to ride the train the same amount of times, if they have passes, is not a fare increase. This year none of the prices are changing. Hiking pass prices and keeping the base fare (single rides + transfers) the same can still hurt a low income rider: it puts the discounted fare further out of reach. Many Chicagoans are unable to put down $25 at a time for a ticket that would pay for all of their rides that week, so they pay per use, and end up paying more.

What holding the line on fare increases does is detrimental to riders and to CTA workers. It continues to defer fixing the problem of underfunded transit. The CTA, and its fellow transportation providers, Metra and Pace, are unable to pay for what people need them to do.

Additionally it’ll mean that, in order to keep costs in check, the CTA might freeze wages again. Because professionals providing Chicagoans with quality transportation services are the city’s and state’s piggy bank, and should sacrifice their wages due to “hard times”.

That’s the problem to be dealt with “soon”, but there’s an immediate problem, that Jon Hilkevitch explains in the Tribune:

The governor and lawmakers in Springfield have not agreed on a 2016 budget and the state still owes the CTA $221 million in capital-improvement funding that was expected in 2015, transit officials said.

But hey, “air quality” money is going to pay $18 million to widen a bunch of intersections so people can drive faster through them – until more people switch to driving through that fast intersection.

Whatever happened to the CTA express bus boarding lane?

While the Chicago Transit Authority investigates the use of alternative payment methods (like with a bank card or your cellphone), there are some things they can do now to improve the customer experience for the long term. The CTA is also investigating getting rid of traditional fare media entirely. My suggestions are congruent with that goal, although I do not support eliminating transit cards and cash payments, and I believe they can be implemented quickly using existing technology. Without a deeper knowledge of the limitations of the devices, software, and vendors CTA currently uses for fare handling, I present you three suggestions for speeding up the CTA:

1. Expand fare types on its RFID cards

Allow multi-day passes to be loaded onto Chicago Card (CC) and Chicago Card Plus (CCP). Go online and apply a 7-day pass to your card for the same price as it would cost at Walgreens. And since your CCP is already registered in your name, if you lose the card, you don’t lose the value of the multi-day pass. CC customers should register their card to protect its stored value.

I write this now because a friend just told me she lost her 7-day pass. That’s $23 down the drain. But if she lost her more durable CC/CCP she could pay $5 and receive the benefit of having her remaining days restored to the card (remaining days would be calculated based on the time she reported it lost).

Having the touchpad located here on the buses was supposed to reduce congestion in the doorway. But it appears to not have worked as the CTA moved the touchpads on all buses to the normal fare collection device, near the driver (in 2010). Photo taken in 2005 by Christopher.

2. Change U-PASS fare media

Switch U-PASS to be an RFID card like the CC and CCP. This will make it cheaper to replace lost or stolen U-PASSes (students must pay $35 to have it replaced while CC and CCP customers only pay $5), while also speeding up boarding time and decreasing overall travel time. I’ve written about switching the U-PASS media before.

I believe suggestions 1 and 2 can be done within a year and that it will provide immediate benefits, possibly more than those provided by the existing old CC/CCP program. Those cards have been available for almost 7 years now and a minority of repeat CTA customers use them.

3. Integrate

This almost goes without saying…fare media should be integrated with Pace*, Metra, and even taxis. CTA has already taken the wonderful step of integrating the CCP with I-GO car sharing.

Essentially, the existing RFID card program (that’s CC and CCP) should be more like the ORCA card in Seattle (ORCA stands for One Regional Card for All). The ORCA card allows multi-day passes (including a monthly or 30-day pass), youth discounts, senior discounts, disabled discounts, and low-income traveler discounts. It can be used on ferries, trains, and buses. And like the CC/CCP “pay as you go” method, the ORCA can hold “cash” to be used for transfers between agencies or paying for a companion (they call it e-purse).

Click through to read why Oran Viriyincy has four ORCA cards.

The public is nothing short of great ideas for the Chicago Transit Authority. Now if only there was a way where we could present our ideas or have them vetted by listening managers.

*The Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus can be used on Pace buses.

© 2020 Steven Can Plan

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑