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Free Public Transit for Chicago?
Jahmal Cole, founder of Chicago non-profit My Block, My Hood, My City told a recent planning panel on segregation in Chicago that he thought the CTA should be free. Cole thinks dropping the fare would give many Chicagoans who don't get to see the rest of the city access to careers, education, and cultural resources that they just can't access now. While the idea might sound utopian, it's an idea that's being proposed in other cities as well, Anne Hidalgo, Paris' mayor announced a study that could lead to free public transit in that city.
"Coaxing more people out of cars and onto buses and el trains would mean less congestion, pollution, and crashes, which would lead to less lost productivity and property damage, lower bills for public health and first responder services, and less wear and tear on roads," John Greenfield argues in the Chicago Reader. Still CTA representatives point out this plan is unlikely under current law. "State legislation that has been in place for 70 years requires the transit system to recoup half of its annual operating budget ($1.51 billion in 2018) from fare-box revenue," Greenfield reports. In fact, fares went up on January 7th of this year.
This doesn't mean the city couldn't subsidize fares for those with low incomes. "The Seattle-area transit authority currently offers the Orca Lift program, with $1.50 fares for residents earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, similar to Chicago’s Divvy for Everyone discounted bike-share program," Greenfield writes.