Falling Ridership May Force Service Cuts, RTA Official Warns

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Byline: Jon Marshall Daily Herald Staff Writer

The Chicago area may need to reduce its bus and train service, one of the system's directors said Friday.

The future health of Pace, Metra and Chicago Transit Authority train and bus lines needs more than Band-Aid solutions, Regional Transportation Authority board member Donald L. Totten of Schaumburg said.

"No matter what we do, we seem to be losing the battle," Totten said at a Friday meeting of the RTA, which oversees the area's transit system. "I think we ought to start thinking about a different thrust."

Declining ridership, less than expected sales tax revenues and shrinking federal and state funds are causing a budget crunch, especially for the CTA.

The system may need to offer a smaller level of service in order to rescue its finances, Totten said.

"When you look at the numbers, Metra is static, Pace has declined and the CTA has declined dramatically," he said.

Most people continue to prefer driving over riding buses and trains despite the best efforts of the transit agencies, said Totten, Schaumburg Township's GOP committeeman.

"We seem to be losing an awful lot of money trying to get the public to use public transit," Totten said. "We do a lot of innovative ideas to get more riders, but they don't come."

The only way buses and trains will grow more popular is if gasoline prices soar, he said.

Totten made his comments after the RTA board heard a sobering assessment of the system's finances.

The RTA budget is slated to increase 2.3 percent next year and 1.6 percent in 1998 and 1999, not enough to keep up with inflation and the area's growing population.

Meanwhile, it expects to spend $4 million more than it brings in next year, according to its budget plan.

The budget leaves the RTA with only $25 million in reserve funds, not enough for an agency with a budget that exceeds $7 billion, board member Herbert E. Gardner said.

"I think all of us should bear in mind that we have very tough times ahead of us," Gardner said. …