Advocates for public transportation are calling on lawmakers in Springfield to approve a tax to help maintain and expand routes. Coordinated by the Active Transportation Alliance, the advocates are pushing Transit Fast Forward, a state Senate bill that would make the motor fuel tax in the Chicago area keep up with inflation. ATA executive director Ron Burke says it would amount to an additional $25 per year per typical family.
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He says that’s cheap compared to the Metra fare increases that took effect this year, with some riders paying an additional $400 per year in fares. “Our bill would increase gasoline costs less than a fraction of a penny …about .4 cents per gallon,” Burke said. “We think that’s a relatively modest and reasonable investment in transit at a time when people need transit more than ever.” Transit Fast Forward would generate an estimated $11.6 million in 2013. That money would be used to expand bus and rail lines as well as increase frequency of routes.
Jennifer Henry with the Natural Resources Defense Council says it’s important to the environment as well. “Transit reduces congestion and air pollution, gets people to work affordably and efficiently, attracts jobs and is vital to the Chicago region’s economy,” Henry said. Burke admits a tax increase could be hard for lawmakers to swallow at a time of higher gas prices, a poor economy and elections around the corner. But he says for a small increase, the payoff can be big. “It’s an election year,” Burke said. “Even though this is a very, very modest increase in the state motor fuel tax, there are those that worry how that might reflect on them. What we’re telling them is look, compare that to the $400 per year or more that some Metra riders are paying. Compare that to transit rider that lost their bus routes.” Metra trains carry 50 percent of commuters coming to downtown Chicago during peak commuting hours. CTA buses and trains replace about 400,000 vehicles on regional roads each workday.