The Pace Bus board of directors officially released the agency's 2013 proposed budget for public comment. Overall, the budget provides a favorable outlook for riders concerned about fares and service levels. Plans call for fares and service levels to remain steady for 2013 and for Pace to add new service in some areas during the year.
The proposed operating budgets for suburban services (encompassing fixed route bus service, vanpool, Call-n-Ride and non-ADA Dial-A-Ride service) and regional ADA paratransit total $344 million for 2013. The budget includes expansion of the I-55 Bus on Shoulders service and additional service on I-90 in conjunction with the Illinois Tollway's reconstruction project. Additional local service in Lake County and restructuring existing service in the Aurora area are also budgeted. Specifics will be forthcoming on these projects as the planning process moves forward.
"We've worked hard to control expenses in recent years, and now we're poised to add service in response to growing demand as the local economy improves and jobs are created," said Pace Chairman of the board Richard Kwasneski. The lone proposed fare change outlined in the budget will be a proposed $27 surcharge on vanpool fares only for vanpools originating in Indiana to cover the cost of tolls incurred on the Indiana Toll Road and the Skyway.
The capital program for suburban services is estimated to be roughly $111 million. The majority will be spent on rolling stock, including buses fueled by compressed natural gas as the agency transitions toward alternative fuels.
The figures in the preliminary report are based on funding marks set earlier in the day by the RTA board. Pace's marks were affected by a reduction by roughly $800,000 of discretionary operating funds from the originally estimated allocation to Pace of $4.5 million. To account for this change, funds will be transferred from the agency's capital budget to the operating budget.
"We're disappointed that our discretionary funding was reduced from all of the prior proposals we had received from the RTA," said Kwasneski. "We will make the necessary adjustments to our budget to ensure that this does not negatively impact our riders."
As in previous years, Pace will hold 13 regional public hearings on the proposed budget.