Pace leaders are advising riders to brace themselves for a 25-cent fare hike in 2018 -- the offshoot of a punitive state budget, officials said.
"It was a horrible budget for transit," Deputy Executive Director of External Relations Rocky Donahue said.
Wednesday, Pace directors reviewed the 2018 budget proposal, which projects a shortfall. A vote is expected in November.
After two years without a budget, the General Assembly approved one in July that brings financial stability to the state but cuts funding to Pace, Metra, the CTA and RTA. It also levies a 2 percent fee for transferring sales tax dollars to transit agencies.
Combined with a dip in ridership and subsequently fare box revenues, the bus service has little choice, Donahue said, adding Pace has not raised ticket prices since 2009.
The agency would increase a bus trip from $1.75 for riders using a Ventra card to $2, and raise cash prices from $2 to $2.25; monthly passes would remain the same. About 60 percent of riders use single fares while 40 percent use passes.
Paratransit rides would rise from $3 to $3.25 although subsidized taxi rides, known as the Taxi Access Program (TAP), will remain at $3.
In addition, the agency will ask nonunion employees to pay 6 percent more for health insurance and enact a hiring freeze that affects 35 positions currently vacant.
No bus routes will be cut or reduced, Donahue said, explaining that riders have pushed back against losing service.
The fare hike came as a last resort, he said, adding that many Pace riders rely on bus service as their sole means of transportation. "If the bus isn't here ... they don't get to work or to school," Donahue said.
Given that Pace's budget is based on a calendar year and the state uses a June 30 to July 1 model, more pain could come next summer, administrators cautioned.
"A lot is predicated on the state bringing us up to full funding in May," Donahue said.
Pace will continue with capital programs including park-and-rides along the Jane Addams Tollway corridor, express bus service on the Edens Expressway and a plan to build a new garage in the northwest suburbs.