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.