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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 2024, the regional transit system is budgeted at $3.9 billion in operating expenses.

Read more in the 2024 Regional Operating Budget.

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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 September 2023, the region has drawn 55%, or $1.95 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. Learn more in the new regional transit strategic plan, Transit is the Answer. 

Learn more about the need for increased funding
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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 2023

Updated in February 2024

December ridership of 42.7 million was at 61.1% of pre-COVID levels, while year‐to‐date system ridership through December was 4.6% above budget, with 331.0 million rides provided, approximately 59% of pre-pandemic ridership. In turn, total system‐generated revenue was $32.7 million or 5.0% favorable to budget, as CTA, Pace Suburban Service, and ADA Paratransit each reported positive results. Service Board expense results continue to be significantly under budget, driven primarily by unfilled positions as the Service Boards continue their efforts to restore full staffing levels. Regional operating expenses were $231.0 million or 6.9% favorable 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, with the combined regional operating deficit $264 million or 9.8% favorable. Accordingly, staff recommends a finding of in substantial accordance with budget through the fourth quarter for each mainline Service Board, ADA Paratransit, and the Region as a whole.

Total public funding through December was 2.1% favorable to budget. Actual sales tax collections through October continued to show strength but were partially offset by weak Real Estate Transfer Tax results at CTA and lower than anticipated federal operating grants at Pace. Preliminary November sales tax results indicate continued growth at around 5% higher than the prior year. The region has drawn down about 56% of the total federal relief funding, and $336.7 million less than was budgeted for 2023 due to the combined impact of favorable operating deficits and strong sales tax and PTF results.

The system‐wide net result was $30.8 million unfavorable to budget through the fourth quarter due solely to a lag in the requisitioning of federal relief funding. Also due to the lower than anticipated relief funding drawdowns, the year‐to‐date regional recovery ratio of 40.3% was 5.5 percentage points below the adopted budget.

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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.

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CTA bus driver holding steering wheel.

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