Why Do Chicago’s Urban Cyclists Say, “Let Them Eat Cake”?

Summary

It’s the time of year for giving and sharing. Our friends and family are going to be paying more for transportation as you can see from the article below:

Fares to rise on Skyway, CTA and Metra in 2013

BY ROSALIND ROSSI  and TINA SFONDELES Staff Reporters December 23, 2012 6:52PM
Updated: December 24, 2012 12:58PM

Drivers pay the $2 toll at the westbound toll plaza of the Chicago Skyway in November 2004. The Skyway toll increases to $4 from $3.50 on Jan. 1, 2013. | Sun-Times Media

Drivers pay the $2 toll at the westbound toll plaza of the Chicago Skyway in November 2004. The Skyway toll increases to $4 from $3.50 on Jan. 1, 2013. | Sun-Times Media

The cost of traveling into Chicago will jump next year — be it by bus, rail or car.

As of Jan. 1, the privately run Chicago Skyway will raise the toll for cars nearly 15 percent: to $4 from $3.50.

Two weeks later, the Chicago Transit Authority will increase rates on passes used by more than half its bus and rail riders. Seniors, some travelers from O’Hare, and Soldier Field Express bus riders also will see fare jumps.

And on Feb. 1, Metra is increasing the price of its 10-ride ticket — for the second year in a row.

That bump comes exactly a year after the biggest fare hike in the commuter rail agency’s history. Riders on average had to shelve out 25 percent more to ride trains beginning Feb. 1 this year.

Rachel Goodstein, a 60-year-old North Sider and former 43rd Ward aldermanic candidate, uses the CTA and, occasionally, the Chicago Skyway. She calls the travel increases “frustrating.’’

The 30-day senior “reduced pass,” on the CTA for example, will shoot up to $50 from $35, a 43 percent increase.

“A little here, a little there. Pretty soon you’re talking about real money,” said Goodstein, riffing on a well-known quote from the late U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois.

Former Chicagoan Kenneth Milton, 66, is none too pleased about the jump in tolls to drive the less than eight-mile Chicago Skyway connection to Indiana. Tolls are set by the Skyway Concessions Company, which inked a 99-year lease with the city in 2005 in exchange for paying the city $1.83 billion upfront.

Now an Indiana resident, Milton drives his wife to work in the city each weekday morning, drives home and then repeats the process every afternoon to pick her up. The increase from $4 will cost him an extra $2 a day.

“Now it’s going to cost $4 dollars” one way,’’ Milton said. “For what? I know they might be allowed to do it. But it’s just a ridiculous rate.’’

As of January 2011 — after Skyway rates jumped to $3.50 from $3 — the Chicago Skyway had the highest toll per mile of any interstate toll system tracked by the Federal Highway Administration.

The FHA listed the Skyway rate at that time as 46 cents a mile for the average passenger vehicle. The jump to $4 on Jan. 1, 2013, based on FHA data, will put the cost per mile at close to 52 cents.

“This is getting out of hand,” Milton said. “Nobody is getting a 14.7 percent raise nowadays.”

But that’s the percentage Skyway tolls will rise.

As of Feb. 1, suburbanites and others hopping on Metra trains into the city will no longer be able to purchase 10 rides for the price of nine. This comes only a year after Metra stopped offering 10 rides for the price of eight.

The 2012 Metra fare increase was “huge” so “to do this on top of that is not good,” Beverly Lietzau, who takes the Metra from Evanston to the city, said after the increase was proposed.

Metra officials said the fare increase will generate $8.3 million and help the agency maintain its equipment.

CTA officials contend commuters will see improvements for their extra fare dollars. That includes station upgrades, the biggest track-renewal project in nearly two decades — on the Red Line — and a modernized fare payment system.

CTA and Metra officials also argue that the increases put the agencies on par with peers nationally.

Steve Schlickman, executive director of the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said good transit and tollway operators try to calculate the tipping point at which a fare increase will turn off too many users.

“They understand where their price points are,” Schlickman said. “The approaches they are taking are ones that minimize ridership loss and maximize revenue.”

Price increases may infuriate some riders, but CTA Chicago Cards and other automated payment methods make fare increases “less visible” to users, Schlickman said.

“That’s going to affect the psychology of the rider, to the benefit of the transit authority, so it will no longer cause as big a decrease in ridership as it would have in the past,” Schlickman said.

The facts are that more people of color and of lesser means are the ones who will be hurt the most by these increases. These are people from communities that have suffered in percentages greater than the national average, during this recession. But much of the responsibility for meeting the gaps in funding will rest on the shoulders of those who can least afford it.

Abundance In Times Of Hurt

Now you would never know that the economy was hurting if you took a look at Dearborn Street. A twelve block section of this great thoroughfare was reopened as a Protected Bike Lane (PBL) this past week. The price tag was about $450,000 taken from the same pool of taxes each of us pays into the coffers of the federal government. They in turn push out monies to states and municipalities for earmarked projects like Dearborn.

Question is why the disparity? Why are the least able folks being asked to pay more to get to and from work while bicyclists get new infrastructure?

The easy answer that you would get from a lobbyist or perhaps one of the staff members of Active Transportation Alliance is “because it is needed“. And if you asked further to what purpose they would respond, “to make cycling safer“.

So chastened you would sit and ponder this last bit of wisdom. And then you would gather up enough courage to ask “how do you judge safety?” Now our lobbyist or ATA person would say with no attempt to hide the disdain in their voice “you look at the numbers“. The numbers being referred to are the fatalities per miles ridden. Ah, you say and then pull out your iPad and rewatch that video of Randy Cohen explaining why he can act illegally and yet ethically.

In a nutshell he states that when a cyclist runs a red light or blows a stop sign though acting illegally the consequences of his actions are his alone to endure. He makes reference to the being the only one with “skin in the game“. Ah, you say. I see what you are driving at. But then you think about the various folks who must come to his aid should he be involved in an accident.

There are the EMTs and the police who will be responding to an accident that he could perhaps have avoided if he only acted lawfully. And then there are the wife and children, parents and sibling and even co-workers who will be suffering right along with him and you suddenly realize that the “skin in the game” argument is a big lie. And we have not even included the driver of the vehicle or the pedestrian he struck or the cyclist who was injured during this accident and our blood boils. How could anyone be so selfish?

But suddenly we realize that should he be the only one who dies what are the consequences of his death? Well whether he is hit through no fault of his own or because he decided to break the law his fatality goes up on that board with all the others. In short he has increased the very numbers which affect our measure of how safe cycling is.

So if we ask again, why do we have those pretty green lanes all around town and the shiny new bike-specific traffic signals all to the tune of $450,000 per 12-block section we get the same answer “to make cycling safer“. And if we demand to know how being scofflaw cyclists fits into that aim, we are told that we are acting like John Kass and are no longer welcomed in our ChainLink Forum conversations.

Thinking Only Of Ourselves

Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette

We cyclists are very self-centered. When someone “yanks our chain” we cry “foul“. So when Doug Iverson writes about John Kass all that he can think about is “getting back at him” for what he believes is “unwarranted criticism“. But John Kass is correct. We should be taxed and registered and licensed in just the same way that vehicles are. And given the hurt that our fellow travelers are experiencing we look like Ebeneezer Scrooge himself when asked to contribute to a “fund for the less fortunate“.

Why are we this way? Are we tone deaf when it comes to the suffering of those around us? Are we somehow convinced that we are more deserving of our good fortune than anyone else?

I challenge the ChainLink Forum community to consider whether they need a nicer software environment in which to whine petulantly more effectively? Or is it possible that they might wonder aloud whether the timing for all of this largesse from City Hall is a bit unseemly.

My guess is that rather than feeling guilty or ashamed they will continue to ask why the lights on Dearborn Street are not timed better thus allowing them to ride the complete length of the area without having to stop. Yeah, and while we are at it, let’s shout out loud and clear to our fellow travelers, “let them eat cake!

Marie Antoinette was probably a cyclist too.