No fare increases for riders, federal funding supports ongoing recovery, strategic planning for the future is underway
CHICAGO, December 16, 2021 — The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) Board of Directors voted today to adopt the 2022 regional transit budget and five-year capital program, which uses federal relief funding to support operations as pandemic recovery continues.
The 2022 budget includes $3.4 billion for operations -- an increase of 4.6% over the financial plan for 2022 adopted pre-COVID -- and the 2022-2026 Regional Capital Program of $5.260 billion. This is the second year the RTA has passed a budget amidst disruption and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
An RTA survey of riders in 2021 found that a majority of lapsed riders planned to return when the pandemic receded, but ridership gains have been stymied by rising COVID cases from emerging variants, vaccine hesitancy, and the resulting changes in office re-opening plans. System ridership realized only modest gains from 2020 to 2021 and is projected to end the year around half of pre-pandemic levels. The CTA, Metra, and Pace budgets do not include fare increases for riders, and price reductions on select passes as well as new pass options have been introduced to encourage riders to return to the transit system.
The 2022 operating budget reflects three federal relief packages which have provided unprecedented support to public transit operations during the pandemic. Over the past two years, the RTA has allocated $3.37 billion in federal relief to the Service Boards to compensate for lower public funding and operating revenues. With these relief allocations, the RTA estimates that operating budgets for CTA, Metra, and Pace will be stabilized through the third quarter of 2025, removing the region from the emergency funding mode it has experienced since the beginning of the pandemic. However, those dollars will not sustain the regional transit system indefinitely.
“The RTA believes public transit is the key to moving the region forward, for all. Northeastern Illinois must build on the power of transit to help achieve solutions to our region’s biggest challenges such as inequitable access to opportunity, climate change, and stalled economic growth,” said Executive Director Leanne Redden. “The RTA has a responsibility to keep the region’s public transit system viable into the next generation and leverage it to help tackle these challenges, but to do so will require a plan.”
As 2022 begins, the region’s transit system is in a place of both urgency and uncertainty. Transit is essential to our region’s success, but the timeline of recovery is unknown. To help answer the many questions about the future of transit in northeastern Illinois, the RTA has begun development of the next regional transit strategic plan, the successor to Invest in Transit. The bulk of the planning and engagement will occur in 2022, after which the efforts of many will be required to implement it.
The approved 2022-2026 capital program of $5.260 billion will fund investments in infrastructure, vehicles, and equipment. This program is 17.1% less than the 2021-2025 Capital Program. The decrease is because Rebuild Illinois bond funds – more than $2 billion -- were programmed and granted to the Service Boards in 2020 and 2021, though projects will continue to be delivered over the next five years. As the Rebuild Illinois bond funding is drawn down, the RTA will need to explore other reliable capital funds to maintain the region’s transit system.
The 2022 capital program does not yet include funding from the recently passed federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
The RTA is continually refining its regional planning processes for increased transparency and accountability. The capital program includes analysis from the RTA and the Service Boards about how each project supports Invest in Transit goals and core requirements such as equity and accessibility. The agency has launched a new searchable database of all capital projects on its data website, RTAMS. Users can download data on each project, see maps of the project location and benefit area, and filter projects by different criteria.
The budget and capital program were released for public comment on November 18, and the RTA held a virtual public hearing on December 1, which followed similar hearings and comment periods by CTA, Metra, and Pace for their respective budgets. These materials and activities are documented at www.rtachicago.org/finance-management/operating-capital. The RTA received nearly 500 comments, primarily from residents concerned about climate change and bus electrification.
“The RTA strongly supports Metra, CTA, and Pace’s commitments to reducing reliance on fossil fuels, including that all public transit buses in the Chicago region will be zero emission/electric by 2040,” Redden said. “By its nature, public transit can be a climate change solution, offering alternatives to driving for people who need to get to work, school, medical appointments, and other destinations. One of the best ways to improve air quality in our region is to continue to encourage the use of public transportation by residents of northeastern Illinois.”
Because of ongoing uncertainty regarding the pandemic recovery and incoming federal infrastructure dollars, both the operating and capital budgets may need to be amended in early 2022. Subscribe to receive news and updates from the RTA to stay up to date.
“In 2022, the RTA and Service Boards will do the work to plan for the future of transit in northeastern Illinois in a time when the challenges and opportunities facing our system have never been greater,” Redden said. “There are many unknowns ahead, but with our collective effort, I’m confident our region will thrive with a public transit system that provides adequate, accessible, and equitable mobility options for all.”