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CTA head pledges no fare hikes this year, but won’t say plans for 2012



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Updated: October 3, 2011 12:28PM

The CTA will not raise fares for the remainder of this year — even though the state owes the agency $102.7 million — but no similar promises can be made for 2012, a top mayoral aide said Wednesday.

Four months after then-Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel vowed to hold the line on fares, CTA President Forrest Claypool said it’s too soon to say whether the CTA can honor that mayoral promise.

“The question that came up today was, because the state is more than $100 million behind in paying the CTA, whether that would affect fares this year, and I said, ‘No.’ I’m not making any comment about the 2012 budget. We’re working on that now,” Claypool said.

Claypool said he won’t know whether the CTA will be forced to raise fares, cut service or both next year until he unveils his 2012 budget in mid-October. But he appeared to be bracing riders for the worst.

Under Claypool’s watch, the CTA has already cut spending by $18 million, in part by eliminating 54 jobs, most of them vacant.

“Everybody knows the magnitude of the financial problems. The CTA has borrowed $554 million for the past several years from the RTA, from the state and from its own capital budget. That’s what’s masked the deficits the last few years,” he said.

“The can was kicked down the road. We can’t kick the can any longer. There’s no one left to borrow from.”

Two years ago, Gov. Quinn brokered a state borrowing deal that froze fares until Dec. 31. The CTA still cut bus service by 18 percent and L service by 9 percent while laying off 1,057 workers.

The state now owes the CTA $102.7 million and is five months behind in payments, officials said.

Asked Wednesday about the possibility of a new round of service cuts, Claypool said, “We’re looking at the system from the ground up. We’re not making assumptions based on historical patterns.”

After appointing Claypool in late April, Emanuel declared his intention to hold the line on fares.

“I don’t believe it’s time — given how the middle-class feels that they’re nickel-and-dimed on taxes — to be raising” fares, he said then.

“My first order of business is to see how operations are working to make sure we’re doing it in the most efficient and effective way.”

Towards that end, the CTA board on Wednesday approved a contract with IMG International to pursue corporate sponsorships and naming rights deals to CTA assets and properties. Claypool said he envisions deals patterned after the Apple station at North and Clybourn that features “tasteful, modern advertising in the station” and a direct connection to the adjacent Apple store.

IMG will be compensated — by commission and on a sliding scale based on the value of sponsorship transactions — only if deals are consummated.

“I don’t expect the financial problems of the agency to be solved by sponsorship agreements. But, we want to do every single thing we can to improve our revenue situation. We don’t want to leave a dime on the table,” Claypool said.

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