Pace budget spells out service expansion, hike in cash fares
Pace's 2016 draft budget is a mixed bag that proposes service expansion and a fare increase of 25 cents for cash-paying riders plus warns of a paratransit shortfall, which might impinge on Metra and the CTA.
The preliminary budget presented Wednesday proposes raising fares from $1.75 to $2 for people who pay in cash instead of the Ventra fare card.
Spokesman Patrick Wilmot said 80 percent of passengers use Ventra and the change is intended to encourage more riders to switch to the automatic system.
Processing cash costs the agency money to count, safely transport and audit, Wilmot said.
Interviews with riders who use cash instead of Ventra indicate, "it's not necessarily an income issue for people; it's more they haven't felt that they needed it. I talked to a customer who said once the (Ventra) smartphone app is ready that would be a major incentive to begin using it."
Pace is also proposing to raise reduced fares for those paying in cash from 85 cents to $1.
One issue for disabled riders who use Pace's paratransit pickup service is an $8.5 million budget hole courtesy of the state budget crisis. Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed eliminating an $8.5 million grant but its fate is unclear as gridlock between lawmakers and the executive branch drags on.
A paratransit fare increase may be proposed to fill the gap although Pace Executive Director T.J. Ross acknowledged it would be very difficult for those riders to absorb.
Adding a twist is the fact that state policy requires paratransit funding to come off the top of the pot of sales tax money that funds Metra, the Pace suburban bus system and the Chicago Transit Authority.
Asked if paratransit's $8.5 million hole might drain the other systems, Wilmot said "we would like to avoid that situation, but all options are always on the table.
"The best-case scenario is that the grant is there for us and we continue to operate without an impact on our customers and the other service boards."
The budget includes $1 million for service expansion but officials held back on specifics. Pace is already on a campaign to increase the number of express buses it provides, including routes on the Jane Addams (I-90) corridor.
Pace financial staff also warned of a $216 million state/federal funding shortfall in the capital budget over the next five years that could jeopardize plans to buy vehicles. Pace expects to purchase 75 new buses and 38 paratransit vans in 2016.
Pace directors will discuss the budget again at an Oct. 14 meeting to be followed by public hearings.