CTA Will Use Ride-Hailing Fee Revenue for “FastTracks” Work

The $179 million project includes citywide upgrades to rail, railroad ties, and power systems.

A Green Line train approaching the Cicero stop. Photo: Jeff Zoline
A Green Line train approaching the Cicero stop. Photo: Jeff Zoline

Last November when the City Council passed an additional 15-cent tax on Uber and Lyft trips, which goes up to 20 cents next year, to fund CTA infrastructure, it wasn’t clear exactly which projects that revenue would be used for. Today the transit agency announced that the projected $16 million raised in 2018, and $21 million generated in 2018, will help pay for a $179 million multiyear, citywide rail, railroad tie, and power upgrade project dubbed “FastTracks.”

The CTA says the improvements will shave up to three minutes off typical trips on the the Red, Blue, Brown and Green Lines, the four busiest rail lines, as well as giving straphangers a smoother ride.

FastTracks_graphic
Image: CTA

CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. noted that the ride-hailing fee is important for this project because Illinois has not passed a capital bill to fund transportation infrastructure since 2009. “FastTracks is a great start, but state support will be critical to continuing investment that’s critical to both maintaining and modernizing our system.”

The first phase of FastTracks includes track repairs in various spots on the Green Line just south of 35th Street. The work will address several slow zones where trains travel lower than optimal speed.

Other projects in 2018 through 2021 include upgrades along:

  • Green Line South (between 18th and 35th Streets; between 35th and 59th Street; and along the Cottage Grove and Ashland branches)
  • Green and Pink Lines (between Clinton and Ashland)
  • Blue Line O’Hare branch (electrical power improvements)
  • Red and Blue Line subways (State Street and Dearborn)
  • Blue Line Congress branch (Clinton to Forest Park)Brown Line (between Southport and Western)

The CTA says electrical power improvements along the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch will allow the agency to run extra trains during high-ridership times like morning rush hours, which will help address crowded trains and reduce the amount of time customers have to wait on platforms. This is becoming an increasingly pressing issue due to the boom in dense transit-oriented development construction along the Blue Line in neighborhoods like Wicker Park and Logan Square.

The CTA has recently seen falling ridership, especially during the wee hours on weekends, a drop the agency largely blames on the rise of Uber and Lyft. Addressing the el system’s speed, reliability, and crowding issues will be key if the CTA is to avoid losing more customers to artificially cheap, venture capital-funded ride-hailing services, so FastTracks seems to be an ideal application of the new tax revenue.

  • CIAC

    “Today the transit agency announced that the projected $16 million raised in 2018, and $21 million generated in 2018, will help pay for a $179 million multiyear, citywide rail, railroad tie, and power upgrade project dubbed ‘FastTracks.'”

    In other words, they are using a catchy name to describe simple maintenance and parts replacement of its infrastructure. I guess Emanuel thinks that this approach, rather than just doing this on an ongoing basis at all times as should be expected without any fanfare, will help him get reelected. Basically, it’s “Hey look! I am repairing track and upgrading some equipment!”. I imagine there’s now going to be signs put up around the CTA touting this “multiyear project”. I’m not sure this really has the effect on voters that Emanuel intends. Many people will think that if you need to tout a “multiyear project” to do basic maintenance and minor infrastructure work it shows a willingness to let it deteriorate in the first place.

    ” Addressing the el system’s speed, reliability, and crowding issues will be key if the CTA is to avoid losing more customers to artificially cheap, venture capital-funded ride-hailing services”

    Can you please explain your use of the word “artificially”. As far as I can tell, the price of ride share services is by far the least artificial of all forms of transportation. It’s the least regulated, for example, and has lower government control of any of its inputs than anything else.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Taxpayer subsidy of public transportation is the rule, rather than the exception, for successful systems around the globe because good mass transit pays for itself in other way, such as increasing mobility and job access, reducing congestion, decreasing the number of serious traffic crashes (which are really expensive for society), improving air quality, and other benefits.

    Venture capital allows Uber and Lyft to undercut the taxi industry and function as a affordable alternative to transit (especially if you use UberPool or Lyft Line.) Many commentators have argued that the companies’ ultimate strategy is to kill off these competing modes and then jack up their prices in order to start making a profit.

  • rohmen

    Bare minimum maintenance to keep the system running is unfortunately the standard for the CTA (and really any big city legacy rapid transit system). There’s a huge difference between simply keeping things safe and running, and actually replacing old track to increase the speed and capacity of the lines—something anyone who rides the Forest Park branch of the blue line can attest to. Personally, I’m glad to see the money spent on this, and I do think it’s a win for the CTA and the City.

  • Chicagoan

    Yup, a lot of the venture capital $$$ is put toward keeping pricing super low, it’s not a viable long-term strategy.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Every mayor has given every civil works project a clever name. Remember in the latter years of the younger Daly administration when routine sewer repairs and road resurfacing was “Building a New Chicago”? Anyplace that tax dollars are being visibly spent to improve people’s lives, politicians will draw attention to it.

  • Jeremy

    Yeah, rail fares in Paris, Barcelona, and Madrid are comparable to ours. London can be a little more expensive, depending on the distance of the journey. But all of those systems are far more expansive than ours. That only happens with significantly more government spending.

  • Anne A

    ” the price of ride share services is by far the least artificial of all forms of transportation.”

    Seriously? If you look at Lyft and Uber receipts and see how often the service is discounted, the net price is often at such a low level that there’s no way that it can cover expenses – or that other forms of transportation can compete for the same price.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    My favorite example of this phenomenon was George Ryan’s “Illinois FIRST” funding initiative “For Infrastructure, Roads, Schools, and Transit.” Heck, I even named a rock band after it: https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/music-notes-john-greenfields-state-of-happiness/Content?oid=915470

  • CIAC

    “Taxpayer subsidy of public transportation is the rule, rather than the exception, for successful systems around the globe ”

    Yes, and I really wasn’t referring very much to the government subsidies themselves but rather the decisions they make and the regulations they impose that make these forms of transportation more expensive than they otherwise need to be. For example, collective bargaining contracts that are more expensive than needed or excessive levels of service where the ridership shouldn’t justify it. This occurs in many cases. In the case of the taxi industry, there are regulations that make it more expensive to operate a taxi than should be necessary and this means the price is higher than otherwise would be the case. The question of what benefits and societal costs all these forms of transportation cost is different than which one operates in the most natural economic way. With that, I think it’s clear the answer is ride share. If you believe there are ways it can cause the transportation ecosystem to be less efficient and less ideal, there are fairly strong arguments that can be made about that. But that doesn’t make it more artificial than these forms of transportation. It most certainly is not.

  • Jeremy

    He is a troll. He migrated over here from the Reader, where he has written thousands of comments under the handle “The Original IAC”.

  • Carter O’Brien

    And then there are the less-clever ones, such as Blago slapping his name on every I-PASS sign in Illinois.

  • F. Hayek 69

    You’re mad that people are carpooling and saving significant amounts of time rather than suffering on the inefficient and slow public transportation system?

  • LKVWDRVR

    I remember when they were “fixing” the slow zones on the brown line near Sedgwick. Trains still creep through there and take forever. Thank god my company pays for parking so I can drive downtown from my home in lake view. It might even take longer to drive on some days, but nothing is more maddening than being on slow trains filled with people sniffling. Gross.

  • what_eva

    Uber/Lyft are *not* carpooling. They’re gypsy cabs.

  • CIAC

    And that constitutes being a troll because…?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    UberPool and LyftLine are less problematic than solo ride-hailing trips. But part of the reason why bus travel is becoming increasingly inefficient and slow is because ride-share vehicles are worsening traffic congestion.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Yeah, I don’t find Mr. or Ms. IAC’s comments to be problematic. S/he’s a tenacious debater, and might consider making the posts a little more concise (my favorite was a Reader comment on a Ben Joravsky piece that was longer than the original article.) But as long as there are no personal attacks involved and the posts otherwise comply with our commenting rules (http://chi.streetsblog.org/about/comment-moderation-policy/), I don’t see an issue.

  • JKM13

    I’d love to know why the blue line needs additional track work after the 500 million ‘your new blue (aka paint stations, change lightbulbs, and apparently track work) and all the track rebuilding that took place in 2007, 2008, 2009 etc http://www.chicagotribune.com/blue-line-construction-cta-chicago-20131209-story.html

  • Anne A

    Oh *that* one.

  • Anne A

    Yeah, the Forest Park branch has been in rough shape the last few years. Looking forward to smoother tracks there. Some of those stations could use accessibility improvements too.

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