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Moving the system

Operating dollars are what keep our regional transit system moving. From employee salaries to fuel to power the buses and trains, operating expenses encompass the cost of running the system on a daily basis. In 2022, the regional transit system cost $3.4 billion to operate.

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Federal relief funding stabilizes the system through 2025

As ridership declined around the country, the federal government recognized the essential nature of transit and included relief funding in three major bills passed in 2020 and 2021 (the CARES Act, CRRSAA, and the American Rescue Plan Act). These relief dollars allowed the RTA to allocate a total of $3.5 billion to CTA, Metra, and Pace to help offset revenue losses from declining ridership due to the pandemic.

Combined CARES, CRRSAA, and ARP Funding Allocations (in millions)

CARES Act$817.5 (58%)$479.2 (34%)$112.8 (8%)$1,409.5
CRRSAA$361.3 (77%)$83.4 (18%)$21.4 (5%)$466.2
ARP Act$912.1 (61%)$513.6 (34%)$71.3 (5%)$1,497.0
Total combined relief allocations$2,090.9$1,076.3$205.5$3,372.6
Share of all three federal relief packages62.0%31.9%6.1%100%

As of July 2023, the region has drawn 53%, or $1.787 billion of those relief dollars. RTA analysis expects that the remaining federal relief funding is projected to last through 2025.

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New funding needed to avoid future budget shortfall

The RTA does not expect ridership to return to pre-pandemic levels in the next few years. Inflation, rising labor costs, and other trends mean that the cost to operate the system is growing each year in spite of efficient stewardship of public dollars. These trends combine to mean that starting in 2026, the RTA is projecting a more than $700 million budget shortfall each year. The RTA and its partners have been working on a Regional Transit Strategic Plan for the future of transit, including a 10-Year Financial Plan that will outline possible solutions to this problem. The plan is set to be adopted in early 2023.

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Financial Results and Oversight

The RTA reports monthly and quarterly financial results from CTA, Metra, and Pace that compare actual results to the budget. Read monthly summaries below or explore more on an interactive dashboard.

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Year to date financial results through December 2022

Updated in February 2023

Year‐to‐date system ridership through December finished close to the amended budget at 0.3% unfavorable, with 285.4 million rides provided, approximately 51% of pre-pandemic ridership. Total system‐generated revenue was $37.8 million, or 6.8%, favorable to the amended budget through the fourth quarter, as each mainline Service Board reported favorable to budget results. Due to lagging ancillary revenue caused by the delayed start of RTA certification trip reimbursements, Pace ADA Paratransit’s system‐generated revenue finished 8.4% unfavorable to budget. The Service Boards continue to keep operating expenses under control resulting in a combined $243.7 million, or 7.8%, favorable variance to budget. The overall strong expense performance combined with favorable operating revenue resulted in favorable to budget operating deficits for each Service Board and ADA Paratransit.

Total public funding through the fourth quarter was $44.5 million, or 2.3%, favorable to the amended budget, with favorable sales tax results offset by lower than anticipated relief funding requisitions at Pace. RTA sales tax collections continued to show strength as October results came in at $134.5 million, surpassing the amended budget
by 7.1%. Year‐to‐date PTF receipts through December were 4.7% favorable to budget but RETT receipts are expected to finish the year 2.5% unfavorable. The region has drawn down 43.4% of the total available federal relief funding through the fourth quarter, significantly less than budgeted for 2022.

The system‐wide net result was $7.6 million favorable to budget through December and the year‐to‐date regional recovery ratio of 44.7% was 0.7 percentage points below the amended budget. The operating deficit results were favorable to budget for each Service Board and for the region as whole by $281.5 million, or 11.0%.

Accordingly, staff recommends a finding of in substantial accordance with budget through the fourth quarter for each Service Board, ADA Paratransit, and the Region as a whole. This recommendation is based on unaudited financial results as reported by the Service Boards to the RTA and relies exclusively on the operating deficit variances
since the RTA Region has been provided with recovery ratio relief through 2023. We will inform the Board if the audited financial results of the Service Boards, once received, differ materially from these unaudited results.

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Where do operating funds come from?

Read the most recent Annual Operating Budget and Capital program to learn more about how transit is funded or explore the sources of operating funding below.


Before the COVID-19 pandemic, system generated revenue, which includes fares passengers paid to ride transit made up about half of the operating budget. 

As of October 2022, ridership is at about 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels, meaning that amount has taken a hit.

Other operating revenue

The Service Boards also generate revenue from advertising, concessions, rentals, and other partnerships.

Sales tax

Illinois law authorizes the RTA to impose a sales tax throughout the six-county Northeastern Illinois region. The RTA sales tax is collected by the Illinois Department of Revenue and paid to the Treasurer of the State of Illinois to be held in trust for the RTA outside of the State treasury. Proceeds from the RTA sales tax are paid directly to the RTA monthly.

The sales tax rates imposed by the RTA differ in order to recognize the differing levels of transit service provided in the six-county region. In Cook County the RTA imposes a 1.25% sales tax whereas in DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will Counties the rate is .50%. The RTA sales tax is expected to generate approximately $1.5 billion in 2022.

Real Estate Transfer Tax

In 2008, the General Assembly granted the city of Chicago the authority to impose an additional Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) upon the privilege of transferring title to, or beneficial interest in, real property located in the City. The supplemental tax rate of $1.50 per $500 of the transfer price is imposed on all sales within the City for the purpose of providing financial assistance to the CTA. This supplemental tax rate is in addition to the tax rate of $3.75 per $500 of the transfer price that the City already imposed prior to 2008. The supplemental tax is referred to as the “CTA portion” of the RETT, and the $3.75 tax is referred to as the “City portion.” The CTA’s portion of the RETT is projected to be approximately $75 million in 2022.

Public Transportation Fund

Illinois law provides that the state transfers money from the State of Illinois’ General Revenue Fund to the Public Transportation Fund an amount equal to 30% of the revenue realized from the RTA Sales Tax and 30% of the revenue realized from the CTA’s portion of the Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) in the City of Chicago. Consequently, the state money dedicated to public transportation increases or decreases at a rate equal to the growth or decline of both sales tax and the RETT. The RTA expects to receive about $490 million in these funds.

Additional State Assistance/Additional Financial Assistance

Illinois law requires that the State of Illinois reimburse the RTA for the cost of the RTA’s debt service payments for the RTA’s Strategic Capital Improvement Program (SCIP) bonds. The RTA expects to receive $130 million of this funding from the State in 2022.

State Funding for ADA Paratransit

Originally established by a Memorandum of Understanding in November of 2009, $8.4 million in funding for ADA Paratransit has been appropriated for State fiscal year 2022.

Recent operating funding blog posts

CTA bus driver holding steering wheel.

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