After a few years of bumpy rides, Pace is expecting a relatively smooth trip in 2013 as far as its budget goes.
The preliminary fiscal plan released Wednesday anticipates service expansion along with acquiring new compressed natural gas buses, but no fare increases.
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The good news is due in part to an uptick in sales tax revenues, which fund a large portion of public transit costs.
Pace financial planners estimated operating expenses for its suburban bus program will be $207.8 million in 2013, compared to $192.7 million in 2012.
Improvements projected for 2013 include expanding the express bus service along the Stevenson Expressway (I-55) between Plainfield and Chicago's Loop and additional buses along the Jane Addams Expressway (I-90). The agency will coordinate those changes with the Illinois tollway as it widens the Jane Addams.
Other enhancements are coming for Lake County and Aurora, although officials said it was too early to release details. Hearings on restructuring service in both areas are expected in 2013.
Chairman Richard Kwasneski said the agency is poised to add service in response to a growing demand as the economy and job prospects improve.
Pace ridership declined during the recession but it's projected to hit 36.8 million in 2013 compared to 35 million this year.
Paratransit, the ride service for disabled individuals in Chicago and the suburbs, is a high-cost item for Pace and has caused past budget crises. Next year, however, revenues should be sufficient to cover an increase in expenses from an estimated $137.5 million in 2012 to $148.8 million, which is related to projected ridership surging by 6 percent. Current paratransit ridership is 3.2 million.
The capital budget is $111.7 million and includes purchasing 75 compressed natural gas buses, which will offer a cheaper, more stable fuel source that's also more environmentally friendly, Pace spokesman Patrick Wilmot said. Pace will also buy 140 Vanpool vans and 106 paratransit buses.
The preliminary budget could change depending on revenue allocations the Regional Transportation Authority will set Friday. Hearings on the final plan will be in October followed by a board vote.