Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Another CTA doomsday article...

From today's Tribune. This is one reason I'm concerned about transit funding and this amendatory veto (allowing seniors to ride for free) that could cast doubt on whether this proposal will become law...
Three CTA bus routes now cross at 103rd and Halsted Streets, making it a busy South Side crossroads. But whether the buses continue to roll through here come Monday remains uncertain.

This Roseland neighborhood intersection could become one of dozens of spots in Chicago and the suburbs that lose bus service if lawmakers fail to resolve the impasse in funding mass transit by this weekend.

The area's grid of criss-crossing bus lines could be cut by more than half, turning some neighborhoods into transit deserts, cutting off businesses, hospitals and schools from the people who need to get to them.

The intersection at 103rd and Halsted is like countless others in Chicago, anchored by a Harold's Chicken Shack, a gas station and a strip mall. Riders passing through the intersection Tuesday said the bus routes that cross here connect people with jobs, schools and shopping.

"What about us working people?" said Angela Banks, 23, who recently started a job as a caregiver at a nearby senior-citizen facility. "I don't have money for cabs."

If the funding impasse isn't resolved this week, scores of students around Chicago, including many who attend Julian High School on 103rd Street, will be forced to find other ways to school, adding significant time to often-long commutes and raising safety concerns as they travel through crime-ridden or gang-infested neighborhoods.

Julian freshman Briana Winters, 15, said if the cuts are implemented, her family is thinking about transferring her to Simeon Career Academy High School, which is closer to their home.

"My grandmother is serious about this," Winters said as she waited for the bus Tuesday on Halsted.

Jaenika Rosario and her cousin Monique Savado, both 14, ride bus routes along Halsted to their aunt's house to hang out until their mothers finish work. The prospect of taking another route worries the girls, both Simeon High School students.

"If you go another way, then we have to go through other neighborhoods and kids get on the bus and want to fight," Rosario said.

Last week, the General Assembly approved a sales-tax increase to fund mass transit, but Gov. Rod Blagojevich altered the legislation by adding free transit rides for senior citizens. The legislature is expected to vote Thursday on the revised bill, which must pass to avoid the drastic service cuts and fare hikes of as much as $1 a ride.

The result of "doomsday" would be unprecedented and staggering, wiping out more than 160 CTA and Pace suburban bus routes combined, transit officials said.

Overnight, the CTA would park 735 of its 2,170 buses until new funding is approved to hire back about 2,400 furloughed employees, said CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney.

The cutbacks could prove devastating for ridership on CTA buses. The 81 bus routes slated for elimination -- out of the current 154 -- provide more than 320,000 rides daily, officials said. Only about 70,000 of those rides are expected to find other bus routes or train lines, they said.

That would mean the CTA could potentially lose a whopping 250,000 bus rides a day, fully one-fourth of its current total.

"CTA riders will be looking for another way to get around each day, and some will not be able to use transit at all because there won't be any nearby service," CTA President Ron Huberman said Tuesday.

Worse, in the ensuing days, the exodus from mass transit could increase as many riders abandon the system in frustration over having to pay higher fares to cram aboard packed buses and trains that plod along on no real schedule.

As part of the cost-cutting measure, the level of service on the 73 remaining CTA bus routes -- waiting times between buses and hours of service -- would not improve.

Meanwhile, officials who manage Chicago-area expressways and toll roads are fearful of what will happen if large numbers of mass-transit commuters switch to driving. Highways and major arterial streets could suffer gridlock far worse than the congestion that rush-hour motorists ordinarily see, they say.

"Already overcrowded buses, trains and roadways will become even more congested," Huberman warned.

The CTA tried to eliminate routes without forcing riders to walk more than a mile to other buses and trains. Another complication was that the cutbacks couldn't be allowed to hinder the CTA's need to meet federal requirements to serve low-income communities.

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