The 2024 budget includes $3.924 billion for operations — an increase of nearly 10% over the adopted 2023 budget.  -  Photo: RTA

The 2024 budget includes $3.924 billion for operations — an increase of nearly 10% over the adopted 2023 budget.

Photo: RTA

The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) announced that its Board of Directors voted to adopt the 2024 regional transit operating budget and 2024-2028 capital program, which uses federal relief funding to support operations as pandemic recovery continues.

“In 2024, we anticipate breaking pandemic-era ridership records, and the region’s transit agencies will collaborate in new and innovative ways to provide more reliable, seamless, and affordable transit service while advocating together for the increased funding we need to support our system’s future,” said RTA Executive Director Leanne Redden. “Because with increased and sustainable funding, we can achieve a system that will continue to thrive for generations to come.”

RTA 2024 Budget

The 2024 budget comes nearly a year after the release of the new regional transit strategic plan, “Transit is the Answer,” which was adopted in February. That plan set a vision of accessible public transportation that connects people to opportunity, advances equity, and combats climate change.

The 2024 budget includes $3.924 billion for operations — an increase of nearly 10% over the adopted 2023 budget, which reflects operating expense increases due to continued service investments and added security, as well as inflationary increases in labor, fuel, and other expenses.

Federal relief dollars distributed by the RTA early in the pandemic will continue to support transit operations of the CTA, Metra, and Pace for the upcoming budget year, but will begin to deplete by the end of 2025.

An annual shortfall of more than $730 million is expected starting in 2026, a nearly 20% hole in the operating budget that, if unaddressed, would lead to service cuts, fare increases, or both, disrupting the region’s economy, workforce, and communities.

Building off “Transit is the Answer,” RTA has developed a legislative agenda for 2024 that focuses on securing funds to address the impending budget gap while also reforming transit funding policy to sustain the system into the future.

Riders Returning to Transit Thanks to Service Adaptations

An estimated 80% of pre-pandemic riders have returned to transit in 2023, and while some are riding less frequently, systemwide ridership continued to recover, approaching 60% of pre-COVID levels and amounting to more than 1 million rides per weekday.

Service adaptations, such as providing additional buses and trains to capture riders who were stuck in Kennedy construction traffic, and fare programs such as continuing the Regional Connect Pass for people to travel across all three operators, were just a few examples of how a stronger transit system encouraged higher ridership.

Additional focus on safety and security, reduced crime, and station improvements have helped riders feel confident in the region’s transit system after several years of disruption, according to the RTA.

2024-2028 Regional Capital Program

The approved budget also includes the 2024-2028 Regional Capital Program of $5.975 billion, a 4.4% increase over the 2023-2027 program.

Federal investment from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is flowing to the Chicago region, and funds from the 2019 state law, Rebuild Illinois, continue to be programmed, allowing CTA, Metra, and Pace to make progress on the maintenance backlog and work toward regional goals of accessibility, equity, and combating climate change.

For the first time in this budget, the RTA is evaluating its capital program based on 15 new metrics included in “Transit is the Answer.” These metrics provide different lenses for analyzing the capital program and understanding how it is accomplishing regional objectives with the limited funding available.

The budget and capital program were released for public comment on Nov. 16, and the RTA presented to all six county boards in the region and held a virtual public hearing on Dec. 7, which followed similar hearings and comment periods by CTA, Metra, and Pace for their respective budgets.

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