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updated: 11/9/2011 8:54 PM

Pace budget plans for new buses without fare hike

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Pace directors approved a fare hike-free budget Wednesday, even as its sister agencies face shortfalls and, in the case of Metra, a possible rate increase.

The operating budget for the suburban bus system, which covers salaries and equipment, is 5 percent higher in 2012 at $194.5 million compared to an estimated $185.6 million in 2011.

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After months of decline, ridership should rise by nearly 1 percent, from 32,594 in 2011 to 32,864 in 2012.

Pace implemented a number of unpopular service cuts in 2010 and that helped to keep the agency in the black, officials said.

The agency also expects an upswing in sales taxes, which fund regional transit. Another source of funds is from senior fares following reforms to a ride-free program for those 65 and older limiting it to low-income passengers.

As far as paratransit, the pickup service for riders with disabilities, the future is challenging.

The paratransit budget for 2012 is $126 million, no different from the 2011 estimate, which means Pace will have to hold the line on expenses although ridership is expected to grow.

And as far as capital dollars go, Pace wants to spend about $100 million; however, two-thirds of that amount may never materialize as the funding comes from uncertain federal and state sources.

Pace plans to replace 163 40-foot buses for about $75 million next year. Pace directors also approved changes to routes 801 and 802 in Kane County. Route 801 will be switched from Route 25 to Randall Road between Elgin and Geneva. Route 802 will be modified to eliminate a segment on First Street and Main Street in St. Charles. Portions of the bus routes that overlap in St. Charles and Geneva will be revised.

Also, a Call-n-Ride program will be offered in both towns in December.

Directors also voted to cut trip reservation times by one hour a day for paratransit riders, following a Regional Transportation Authority recommendation. Reservations times from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. will be changed to 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., effective Jan. 1.

Metra officials are expected to vote on a fare hike Friday.

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