- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2005

CHICAGO (AP) — They are as ubiquitous here as skyscrapers and hot dog joints: the elevated trains that screech and rumble along century-old tracks through downtown and the city’s far-flung neighborhoods, taking workers to their jobs and tourists to Wrigley Field.

But a $55 million budget gap has turned the Chicago Transit Authority’s fabled “L” system and its fleet of 2,000 buses into an “endangered species,” the authority says.

Officials at the nation’s second-largest transit system say they will have to eliminate routes, raise fares or both unless the legislature provides more money. In signs and recorded announcements on trains and buses, they are urging their 1.5 million daily riders to “Prevent service cuts. Voice your support.”

Across the nation, big-city transit agencies have been facing similar challenges. Systems in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., have recently raised fares, cut service or sought more state funding as budget deficits have grown.

One reason is that sales tax revenue — which helps fund many systems — has dwindled as the economy slowed, according to Rose Sheridan, spokeswoman for the American Public Transportation Association.

And states are less willing to earmark more money for public transit as they face their own budget problems. Illinois’ projected deficit for 2006 exceeds $1 billion.

Without more public funding, many transit agencies have few options but to increase fares or cut services, said Alan Horowitz, a transportation engineer and urban planner at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

One of the city’s proposals is to increase fares from $1.75 to $2.50, which would make its 1.5 million daily riders pay the highest base fare of any large transit system in the nation.

Other proposals would end overnight train service.

The transit board is scheduled to adopt a worst-case plan at its meeting tomorrow.

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