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posted: 7/1/2012 7:53 AM

Budget problems loom for paratransit

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  • Riders with disabilities protest proposed fare hikes at Pace headquarters in Arlington Heights in 2009.

       Riders with disabilities protest proposed fare hikes at Pace headquarters in Arlington Heights in 2009.
    BILL ZARS | Staff Photographer

 
 

The rising costs of providing service to disabled riders is creating budget angst, Regional Transportation Authority leaders warned.

The number of passengers using paratransit, the pickup service for people with disabilities, outperformed expectations by 100,000 riders, an RTA analysis for the first four months of 2012 showed. About 1.3 million riders used paratransit January through April compared to the 1.2 million projected.

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But while the program is gaining ground, so are expenses. Pace, which provides paratransit for Chicago and the suburbs, had budgeted $40.7 million for paratransit but costs came to $44.3 million year to date. Revenues of $200,000 more than anticipated helped offset the gap, but it's still significant, officials said.

"We need to monitor this throughout the year," RTA Chairman John S. Gates Jr. said at a recent meeting.

The aging of the baby boomer generation is creating a shift toward paratransit use that won't slow down, Pace Executive Director T.J. Ross pointed out. "You can deny the demographics," he said. "There's a demographic waterfall of baby boomers moving to their 60s and 70s."

Pace paratransit faced a budget crisis in 2009 and considered raising fares. However, the state gave the agency $8.5 million as a stopgap measure to get through the next two years in hopes the economy would improve.

Sales tax revenues, which fund transit, are up but RTA officials said they intended to put the paratransit budget under the microscope in the coming weeks. The agency has financial oversight of Pace, Metra and the CTA.

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