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The Millionaire Mayor's CTA

The mayor's oft-repeated declaration on Monday that CTA riders who don't like increases in the multiday pass card fares is getting as much derision as the governor's pension python. As well it should. Remember when it was Republicans who were cartoony and out of touch?

Both have allies in the town's editorial boards, for what it is or isn't worth. More than influence, the editorial boards are a window into the souls of our city's press corps, and it's often hard not to shield your eyes at one beholds.

Both boards were likely lobbied hard and by personal visits from mayoral staff given the way they mimic the administration on the CTA budget.

The Tribune's editorial on the matter is particularly condescending.

Call it a "modest reduction in discounts." Call it a fare hike. Either way, you're likely to pay more for your commute starting in January if you ride the CTA.

No one else but the administration is calling it a "modest reduction in discounts," and that's just the sort of Orwellian formulation journalists are supposed to call bullshit on (as the Sun-Times, to their credit, did). But when you rise to the level of editorial board, I suppose, you ascend to greater levels of truth-telling in which deceptions are necessary to tame the steaming masses.

"The base fare will stay at $2.25. But a 30-day pass, now $86, will cost $100, and a seven-day pass, now $23, will cost $28. About 55 percent of customers use the multiride passes. With due respect to your beleaguered wallet, this is not unreasonable."

Let's do a little math here.

A 30-day pass goes from $86 to $100. That's $168 a year for those who use such passes year-round.

A seven-day pass goes from $23 to $28. That's $260 a year for those who use these passes year-round.

That's not what I call due respect for beleaguered wallets.

Now, 55% of CTA users reportedly use such passes, so not everyone's getting hit. And some percentage of those are tourists and/or people who can afford to pay more. And some aren't. And they aren't necessarily using those passes every day of the year.

But for those who do, those are significant dollar increases to just about anyone's budget - to go along with all the other increases we're all getting hit with, through both government fees and fines and rising prices in the marketplace.

On Monday, Rahm was asked about the 30-day pass, whom Tribune reporters say is used not by, say, tourists, but by the most needy of regular CTA riders - presumably poor folk who use the train or bus to get to work every day.

Here was Rahm's curious response:

"First of all, the tourists get charged different."

They do? Is everyone who buys a multi-day pass biometrically scanned to determine their tourist status, with fares adjusted accordingly?

I know single-ride Blue Line fares originating from O'Hare are set to increase (from $2.25 to $5), but that's not just for tourists - and not every tourist arrives via O'Hare. (Psst, Rahm: Some drive!)

"Second is, if you actually do the work and actually talk to Forrest and Terry on background, people who buy seven-day versus the 30-day are different and a lot of them get different types of subsidies and they were actually adjusted accordingly."

So first, Rahm is suggesting that if reporters talk on background to his guys, they'll get it; apparently they have studies that show just who the multiday pass users are and the neediest aren't getting the hardest. At least that's what they'll tell you; don't bother trying to FOIA those studies - and remember, your "background" conversations may be recorded.

But Rahm's real problem - and the problem with the Trib editorial - is the contempt and lack of understanding they show for those who will indeed be burdened.

Make no mistake, Rahm's talking points were carefully considered. He plotted out the repetition of comparing CTA fares with gas prices, which he predicts will only keep rising under four more years of President Obama.

And he framed the CTA as an urban yuppie perk, not transportation of the last resort for those most needing it. Indeed, that's how the system has been run at least since the 90s, and explains why North Side CTA stations get beautified while South Side bus lines get cut.

The CTA isn't likely to ever be profitable - it will always be a cost center. We pay for it with our taxes as an essential public good. But that's not the way someone like Rahm - who noted that he used his multiday pass that morning and noticed at the station how many options were available to riders like him - sees it.

Obviously the derision showed up on Rahm was based on his "let them drive cars" sentiment more than the actual increases. But the increases don't help.

"[P]eople who buy seven-day versus the 30-day are different and a lot of them get different types of subsidies and they were actually adjusted accordingly."

Perhaps, but I wish I knew just what subsidies he was talking about - and what adjustments he means. In other words, why not just answer the reporter's questions with a real answer instead of a patronizing, smirking non-answer? I'm willing to be placated!

And in a hallmark of his administration, perhaps talking a page from the book of his former boss, the president, Rahm once again posited himself as the hero who has come in and fixed what was broken almost beyond repair by his predecessor, the Mayor Who Shall Not Be Named.

"The system had not been invested in," he said, as he praised the work of CTA president Forrest Claypool.

Claypool was the former mayor's chief of staff for two years, but curiously he didn't add any insight into the notion that he had failed to goad his then-boss into investing in the CTA.

And when Rahm talks next of how he has saved the park district from his awful predecessor's immense failure, he most assuredly will forget to mention that Claypool was the superintendent for five years until he left to manage the campaign of the mayor who apparently failed at everything. (Hey, I don't necessarily disagree; it's Rahm's disingenuousness that is the problem, not his newfound assessment of Daley.)

Also leading the charge for the mayor back then was the Terry that Rahm referred to - Terry Peterson, who is now the chairman of the CTA board. Peterson is also a former Daley fixer and campaign manager. I wonder how he feels having Rahm call out his old pal so much. Probably nothing.

*

Back to the Trib editorial board, which was obviously fed Rahm's talking points:

We doubt the increases will cause many riders to abandon the buses and trains, which are still a major transportation bargain. Those who commute by car have seen steep increases in gas, tolls and parking costs in the past few years. Metra raised its fares 30 percent this year, and will increase the cost of its 10-ride tickets in 2013. And have you taken a taxi lately?

People who use the CTA have a choice: They could always take a taxi!

A cab from O'Hare International Airport to the Loop can easily cost $50. Under the CTA's new fare structure, a one-way ride on the Blue Line from O'Hare will cost $5. That increase targets tourists, as does the $4.25 increase in the one-day unlimited rides pass.

Bingo! Rahm could have just said so. But if that's the part of the increase that's targeting tourists, who gets targeted with the increase in multiday fares?

*

We've long believed commuters should shoulder more of the cost for their rides.

Unless you are high enough on the Trib totem pole to get free parking at the Tower; then we like to grouse about every increase in downtown parking rates.

*

Fare hikes are expected to bring in $56 million in 2013. The rest of the $165 million budget shortfall will be closed through roughly $50 million in management efficiencies and $60 million in labor savings contained in tentative four-year contracts with the CTA's unions.

And here we get to the real story.

That's not exactly the $160 million Claypool said last year could be wrung from what he called "gold-plated collective bargaining agreements." But again, we'll give credit. He set an ambitious target.

With contract negotiations on the horizon, Claypool took aim at "30 years worth of work rules encrusted on the system like barnacles." He complained that it took two union workers to park a train - a rail operator to drive it into the yard and a switchman to drive it into the barn - and that it took three workers to perform a brake check that could be done by one, and on and on.

Nobody likes unreasonable union work rules, but when I was at the Tribune-owned WGN-TV studio a couple weeks ago, I watched the following scene:

I sat at a desk just a few feet from Lisnek as he did the open for CLTV's Politics Tonight. Then I was asked to sit next to Lisnek for our segment on Jesse Jackson Jr. Except there wasn't a chair available for me, so Lisnek looked around and spotted one just a few steps away. At the same time I was about to get mic'd up from a mic guy who had walked up upon us.

LISNEK to MIC GUY: Should I grab that chair?

MIC GUY: I don't have anything to do with that.

ME: I'll grab it.

LISNEK: No, you don't understand. It's a union thing. He's not in the right union.

The mic guy couldn't grab the chair, and neither could Lisnek, without violating union rules.

Fortunately, a guy from the right union appeared just in time to move the chair and I sat down and got mic'd up with about half a second to spare.

So clean your own damn house first, Tribune!

*

Then again, inane union work rules have nothing on inane management work rules. Did you see the memo?

But it's also fair to expect the CTA to strip waste and inefficiencies from its budget.

In other words, let's take away people's jobs at just the time when the economy can least afford it.

*

[E]mployees will pay more toward the cost of their health care. New hires won't step up the pay scale as quickly. The CTA gained some flexibility in scheduling that should reduce overtime costs.

And middle-class workers will no longer be able to afford cars. They won't have any choice but to take the CTA - if only they had a job to take the CTA to.

(The union traded work-rule changes for a five-year no-layoff guarantee, but as we've seen with this mayor, that means nothing.)

*

"We can't keep expecting transit riders to bear more of the burden," said Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance. The group is urging riders to contact elected officials and lobby for more government funding.

It was refreshing to hear that the CTA didn't consider that an option. "Washington's broke. Springfield's broke," said CTA Chairman Terry Peterson. "There's nowhere to go."

Well, who broke them? Shouldn't they be the ones to bear more of the burden?

-

So it's not the fare increases per se that is the problem here, it's the tone of a a millionaire mayor and his wealthy pals who keep chipping away at the rest of us just like his predecessor while acting as if he's doing us a favor.

-

See also:
* Ramsin Canon: Let Them Drive Cars

* Whet Moser: The Math Behind The CTA Fare Increase

* Ald. Ameya Pawar: Solving A Fiscal Problem Only To Create A Social Problem Is No Solution

-

Comments welcome.



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Posted on November 28, 2012


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