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CHICAGO, DEC. 14, 2023 – The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) Board of Directors voted today to adopt the 2024 regional transit operating budget and 2024-2028 capital program, which uses federal relief funding to support operations as pandemic recovery continues. Making transit more seamless and affordable will remain a focus for the RTA, Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra and Pace.
“In 2024, we anticipate breaking pandemic-era ridership records, and the region’s transit agencies will collaborate in new and innovative ways to provide more reliable, seamless and affordable transit service while advocating together for the increased funding we need to support our system’s future,” said RTA Executive Director Leanne Redden. “Because with increased and sustainable funding, we can achieve a system that will continue to thrive for generations to come.”
The 2024 budget comes nearly a year after release of the new regional transit strategic plan, “Transit is the Answer,” which was adopted in February. That plan set a vision of safe, reliable, accessible public transportation that connects people to opportunity, advances equity and combats climate change.
The 2024 budget includes $3.924 billion for operations — an increase of nearly 10 percent over the adopted 2023 budget, which reflects significant operating expense increases due to continued service investments and added security, as well as inflationary increases in labor, fuel and other expenses.
Federal relief dollars distributed by the RTA early in the pandemic will continue to support transit operations of the CTA, Metra and Pace for the upcoming budget year, but will begin to deplete by the end of 2025. An annual shortfall of more than $730 million is expected starting in 2026, a nearly 20 percent hole in the operating budget that, if unaddressed, would lead to dramatic service cuts, fare increases or both, disrupting the region’s economy, workforce and communities. Sustainable operating and capital funding must be secured not only to close the budget gap, but also to improve the system for the next generation. Building off “Transit is the Answer,” RTA has developed a legislative agenda for 2024 that focuses on securing funds to address the impending budget gap while also reforming transit funding policy to sustain the system into the future.
An estimated 80 percent of pre-pandemic riders have returned to transit in 2023, and while some are riding less frequently, systemwide ridership continued to recover, approaching 60 percent of pre-COVID levels and amounting to more than 1 million rides per weekday. Service adaptations, such as providing additional buses and trains to capture riders who were stuck in Kennedy construction traffic, and fare programs such as continuing the Regional Connect Pass for people to travel seamlessly across all three operators, were just a few examples of how a stronger transit system encourages higher ridership. Additional focus on safety and security, reduced crime and station improvements has helped riders feel confident in the region’s transit system after several years of disruption.
The approved budget also includes the 2024-2028 Regional Capital Program of $5.975 billion, a 4.4 percent increase over the 2023-2027 program. Federal investment from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is flowing to the Chicago region, and funds from the 2019 state law, Rebuild Illinois, continue to be programmed, allowing CTA, Metra and Pace to make progress on the maintenance backlog and work toward regional goals of accessibility, equity and combating climate change. For the first time in this budget, the RTA is evaluating its capital program based on 15 new metrics included in “Transit is the Answer.” These metrics provide different lenses for analyzing the capital program and understanding how it is accomplishing regional objectives with the limited funding available.
The budget and capital program were released for public comment on Nov. 16, and the RTA presented to all six county boards in the region and held a virtual public hearing on Dec. 7, which followed similar hearings and comment periods by CTA, Metra and Pace for their respective budgets. These materials and activities are documented on the RTA’s website, and the 2024-2028 Capital Program is also available on RTAMS, the RTA’s mapping and statistics website. The RTA received over a dozen comments, primarily from residents concerned about the impending fiscal cliff, improved reliability and the progress of bus electrification.
Since the adoption of “Transit is the Answer,” the RTA has launched and grown a coalition of transit supporters. The Transit is the Answer Coalition meets quarterly with more than 100 members to discuss key initiatives of plan implementation, including safety and security, affordable fares and more. These conversations have directly guided programs as they have been developed and will continue in 2024. Join the coalition and subscribe to the RTA newsletter for updates.
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) today proposed a $1.99 billion operating budget that keeps fares at current levels, maintains the delivery of bus and rail services, with plans to add additional service to meet growing ridership demand—all while continuing to make important investments to upgrade and modernize the system.
The proposed spending budget reflects a 9.2 percent increase (or $168.2 million) over the previous year’s budget and supports CTA’s ongoing workforce initiatives for hiring and retaining key operations personnel, while also introducing several new measures that will help improve the overall customer experience with enhanced security and improved Ventra fare system features. This includes a new ChatBot for improved customer service, ongoing work with our transit partners at Metra, Pace and RTA to deliver innovative fare products, plus a new, dedicated program that will provide pre-loaded Ventra Cards to victims and survivors of domestic abuse.
“I deeply believe that an examination of an agency’s budget is all that is required to understand who and what it prioritizes. The CTA’s proposed 2024 budget puts a high premium on providing the highest levels of service, customer comfort, modernization and equity,” said CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. “I am pleased with the continued progress and positive trends that CTA continues to make, but we still have work to do to provide the service that I believe our customers deserve and expect. I am committed to returning more scheduled service to our bus and rail systems in 2024.”
CTA ridership grew steadily throughout 2023, reaching a pandemic-era high of more than 25.83. million rides during the month of September. Overall system-wide ridership for 2023 is forecasted to finish 12 percent higher than in 2022. Ridership is projected to increase further in 2024, approximately 5.7 percent over the 2023 forecasted ridership.
The continued strengthening of CTA’s workforce is critical to further improving the delivery of its services.
In 2023, the CTA made tremendous progress toward addressing this issue, hosting seven job fairs that attracted more than 3,000 potential employees, while hiring hundreds of new workers into a variety of positions. As a result of CTA’s ongoing aggressive recruiting efforts, it has already surpassed its goal of hiring 700 new bus operators in 2023, and anticipates hiring more than 900 bus operators by the end of the year.
CTA is also on track to hire approximately 100 bus mechanics in 2023, which is more than double the normal rate. On the rail side, almost 100 flaggers will have been trained and transitioned into rail operator positions by the end of 2023, which is significantly more rail operators trained than the number of rail operators historically trained in a year.
Overall, CTA is projecting to hire more than 2,000 new employees for the current year, also far exceeding the 1,200 annual hiring norm. CTA will continue to plan, monitor, and respond to the shifting employment landscape to meet its people and service needs. As such, CTA anticipates continued optimization of its service schedules to reflect its growing workforce–additional service is expected to be added in 2024.
Since the start of the pandemic, federal funding has been crucial to allow transit agencies across the country, including the CTA, to maintain their operations. Federal funding from the American Rescue Plan will help the CTA close a projected $473 million budget gap in 2024—and allow the agency to continue providing as much service as possible with its available workforce. Despite the financial challenges, the CTA continues to look for ways to operate more efficiently and effectively, and to best serve the region.
“While more and improved funding and investment is unquestionably the most important issue facing CTA finances, our number one priority is always the people who take hundreds of millions of rides on our system every year. It is incumbent upon us to work diligently to find better ways to serve them and improve their travel experience.” Carter added.
The CTA’s 2024-2028 Capital Improvement Program—which is separate from the agency’s operating budget—calls for $3.61 billion in projects over the next five years. This budget reflects CTA’s ongoing commitment towards the modernization and improvement of its physical infrastructure—tracks, rail stations, buses and trains, facilities and technologies. Among the many important investments is the Red Line Extension, which will extend the CTA’s busiest rail line to the southern City limits and will provide greatly improved transit access and connectivity to the Far South Side of Chicago.
Other capital projects to continue or begin in 2024 include:
More information on the proposed 2024 budget is at transitchicago.com/finance/.
A public hearing will be held on Thursday, November 9, 2023 at 6:00 p.m. at CTA headquarters located at 567 W. Lake Street, second floor conference room, Chicago, Illinois 60661. The facility is accessible to people with disabilities.
CTA will afford an opportunity for interested persons or agencies to be heard at the public hearing with respect to the proposed 2024-2028 Capital Program of Projects, 2024 Operating Budget and Program and the Financial Plan for 2025 and 2026. Written and oral comments will be taken into consideration prior to adoption of the proposed 2024-2028 Capital Program of Projects, 2024 Operating Budget and Program and the Financial Plan for 2025 and 2026.
WRITTEN STATEMENTS. Written comments may be submitted for consideration in the following manner: by correspondence addressed to Chicago Transit Authority, Office of the Board Secretary, 567 W. Lake Street, Chicago, Illinois 60661; by hand delivery to the above address turned in to the first floor mail room; by fax to 312-681-5035; or by email to Boardoffice@transitchicago.com. Written comments must be submitted by 5:00 p.m. Tuesday, November 14, 2023.
ORAL STATEMENTS. Members of the public who wish to speak at the public hearing are encouraged to register prior to the hearing, by completing and submitting a Request to Speak form online at transitchicago.com/finance by 6:00 p.m. Wednesday, November 7, 2023. Persons wishing to provide an in-person oral statement at the public hearing will be announced to deliver their remarks during the public hearing. Persons wishing to deliver their remarks via dial-in must indicate the dial-in option on the Request to Speak form. Registered speakers who have opted to dial-in will be called by CTA, at the telephone number provided on their Request to Speak form, during the Thursday, November 9, 2023 hearing to be connected to the public hearing proceedings.
REGISTRATION AT THE TIME OF THE HEARING. Members of the public may also make in-person requests while the hearing is in process. Such requests will be accepted between
6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 9, 2023. Individuals who pre-register to speak will be heard first. Individuals who request to speak while the hearing is in progress will then speak in the order their request was received.
At the public hearing, an American Sign Language interpreter and a Spanish interpreter will be provided. Individuals with disabilities who require other accommodations to review the budget or provide feedback should contact the Office of the Board Secretary at Boardoffice@transitchicago.com or by calling 312-681-5022 or contact Relay.