Proposed gas tax hike aimed at helping transit

  • Transit advocacy groups are supporting legislation increasing the gas tax.

    Transit advocacy groups are supporting legislation increasing the gas tax. Daily Herald file photos

Updated 2/29/2012 5:42 PM

Better transit means cleaner air, less traffic and faster commutes, which is why drivers should help subsidize it with a higher gas tax, transportation groups said Wednesday.

Transit advocates pushed for a state gas tax increase in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties to fund repairs and upgrades to Metra, Pace and the CTA.


The legislation filed Feb. 1 by Sen. Martin Sandoval, a Chicago Democrat, seeks to raise Illinois' 19-cent-a-gallon gas tax annually based on the rate of inflation, with that extra money intended for transit.

But with drivers paying higher tolls and gas prices pushing $4 a gallon, it's not clear how the proposal will fly in the General Assembly.

"Transit riders need to rise up and be a louder voice," said Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, a nonprofit organization representing transit riders, pedestrians and bikers.

Based on projections of a 2 percent Consumer Price Index increase, the measure would raise the gas tax to 19.4 cents a gallon next year, Burke said. This could generate about $11.6 million in 2013 and $168 million over five years.

"Increased federal funding is not likely," Metra government affairs manager Sam Smith said. "This bill is a first step."

Metra on Feb. 1 instituted steep fare hikes to pay for operating costs.

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While Burke noted that the gas tax hike "will help avoid future fare increases," Smith said it will be up to the Metra board of directors to decide if an inflation-related fare adjustment is necessary in 2013.

Pace spokesman Patrick Wilmot said the agency supported the concept of the legislation, adding "we're neutral on the bill as it's written right now because it doesn't provide any specifics about how the new funds would be directed."

Sponsors are working on an amendment that likely would give 48 percent of the extra revenues to the Chicago Transit Authority, 39 percent to Metra and 13 percent to Pace.

Regional Transportation Authority officials also backed the concept of the legislation but said they wanted to see the amendment before commenting.

But former RTA Executive Director Steve Schlickman thinks the increased costs of driving mean it's the right time to enhance transit through better funding. "Transit has proved to be an effective option for those who can access it," Schlickman said.

Volunteers with an Active Transportation Alliance-related organization -- Riders for Better Transit -- said they would try to galvanize support for the plan at downtown train stations. The group's website is

More information on the legislation, SB 3236, can be found on the General Assembly's website at

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