Frequently asked questions about the campaign against bus fare hikes in Chicago.
After postponing any decision on the last "Doomsday" budget in December 2004, the Chicago Transit Authority has revealed 5 new budget scenarios. Without extra money from state legislators, the CTA claims to have no choice but to implement one of the budgets this coming July. Every scenario includes drastic service cuts and layoffs and/or steep fare hikes.
At the same time that the CTA is making these threats, over an $87 million budget shortfall, the CTA is continuing work on the $2 billion Circle Line project and planning to build a $172.4 million "super station" at Block 37 in the Loop.
What is the Circle Line?
The Circle Line is a plan in the works to build a line encircling Chicago's central neighborhoods. It is expected to cost $2 billion to complete and be constructed in 3 phases.
While the new line would decrease travel time for some commuters, there are serious problems with parts of the plan. Phase 1, named the Silver Line, will reroute 54/Cermak Blue Line trains to bypass the Racine, Halsted/UIC, Clinton, and LaSalle stops. There will be no more direct trains to the Red Line subway transfer tunnels or to the Northwest side or O'Hare. Commuters from Pilsen, North Lawndale, Little Village and Cicero will instead have to take the Silver Line into the Loop to the outdoor, elevated Clark/Lake stop, then go down into the basement of the State of Illinois Building and get back on the Blue Line trains in the subway. This will affect thousands of people in getting to work, school, medical facilities and leisure activities.
Phase 2 will cut directly through many houses in Pilsen. Residents there have been forced by law to sell their homes to the city for the line to be built. It should be noted that Phase 3 construction in the North side neighborhoods is entirely underground and will not require tearing down any houses or buildings.
The cost of building the Circle Line is far more than the CTA's current budget gap. Any advantages of the Circle Line then will not only be at the expense of 54/Cermak Blue line riders, and residents of Pilsen losing their homes but of CTA employees losing their jobs, and all riders affected by Doomsday service cuts and fare increases.
What is the Block 37 Super Station?
Block 37 is the area in the Loop between State, Randolph, Dearborn and Washington streets. It was recently sold by the city of Chicago, at a loss of $20 million, to the Mills Corporation. Development of the block is to include retail space, office buildings, condos, a hotel, a massive digital art display (à la Millenium Park), maybe a casino, and a new CTA "super station". The underground CTA station is specifically being built as a terminal between the O'Hare and Midway airports, providing express service to both. The CTA is paying $172.4 million to build the station while the Mills Corporation is paying $40.9 million. Neither airport is contributing any money. The cost of running the express trains (that Chicagoans will get to watch zoom past us while waiting for our trains to come) is unknown.
Once again, the minutes air travelers will be saving en route to the airport will be at the expense of all of us if we lose our service, jobs and current fare prices.
But isn't the operating budget separate from the capital funding budget?
The CTA has continually made the argument that capital projects (like the Circle Line and Block 37) have a different funding source and separate budget from the operational budget that is in crisis. This is a very convenient excuse, but it is questionable how true it is that money cannot be transferred from one budget to another. The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) in fact suggested to CTA President Frank Kruesi in December that he transfer capital funds to the operational budget to avoid service cuts. Kruesi just replied that "You cannot count on transferring capital money to operating accounts when the state is not taking action to assure the capital money will be there". This does not mean that he cannot relocate capital funds to maintain the current level of service; it means he is making a clear choice to prioritize capital projects over regular, much-needed, service.
Trains running on the Circle Line and especially express trains running to the 2 airports will also require an operational budget. The billions spent on infrastructure suddenly seems like a waste if when completed, there is insufficient operational funds to run trains on it...
So what's your alternative?
We don't think it's our job to write the CTA a new budget (not unless the board is going to pay us what they pay themselves). As working class Chicagoans, we see that all the CTA's budget options amount to dumping their problems off on us, transit dependent riders and CTA workers. We see that their "budget crisis" is really a matter of priorities. Out of necessity then we are putting pressure on the CTA to solve their crisis by paying for it themselves. Riders and workers need to work together and fight for ourselves.