Pace riders get hit with fare increase

Cash-paying riders will pay extra 25 cents

By Igor Studenkov | Bugle Staff

Pace bus riders will pay a quarter more per ride – but only if they pay using cash.

The increase was part of the suburban bus transit agency’s 2016 fiscal year budget, which also includes a 15-cent increase for cash-paying riders who qualify for reduced fares. Cash-paying riders that take express buses that run between southwestern suburbs and downtown Chicago won’t be affected.

The Pace Board of Directors unanimously approved the increase during its Nov. 11 meeting. The budget also calls for a total of $227.97 million in spending, $7.6 million of which will go toward service improvements. Most notably, all new Pace buses will come equipped with Wi-Fi. The new budget, along with the fare increase, will take effect Jan. 1.

Until Pace’s recent implementation of the Ventra card, most riders paid in cash. Riders could also pay with CTA’s magnet strip cards and the Chicago Card. The fare for standard, non-express routes is $1.75. Cash-paying riders that wished to make a transfer could pay an extra quarter and receive a magnetic strip transfer card, which entitles a rider to two transfers within the span of two hours.

In July 2014, Pace’s old card readers were deactivated in order to complete the switch to Ventra. Cash-paying riders were no longer able to ask for transfer cards, but the fares remained the same.

Pace spokesman Patrick Wilmot explained that the 25-cent increase for cash-paying riders wasn’t a way to collect revenue.

“Pace intends to discourage the use of cash to reduce the costs associated with processing and handling coins and bills,” he said. “[The policy] mirrors practices already in place at CTA and the Illinois Tollway.”

Indeed, CTA bus riders who pay fares in cash currently have to pay an extra 25 cents.

Unlike CTA, however, Wilmot said Pace doesn’t have a large network of train stations where it could place Ventra vending machines. That meant that most riders had to either order the cards online or purchase them at retail locations. Since 2013, Pace was working to expand the network of retailers that would sell Ventra cards. But in July 2014, the process wasn’t as far along as the agency would have liked.

The situation has improved significantly since then, Wilmot explained.

“We are much further along than we were in the past,” he said. “Approximately 80 percent of fares on Pace are currently paid using Ventra cards.”

The increase won’t affect express bus routes that charge premium fares. This includes routes 755 and 855, which run between Plainfield and Chicago, and routes 850 and 851, which run between Bolingbrook and Chicago.

The budget calls for Pace to spend $7.6 million on service improvements. Pace plans to order 75 new buses – 72 for regular routes and three for express routes.

Pace will also spend about $28,000 more on Niles Free Bus system. As previously reported by the Bugle, Pace and the village of Niles split the cost of the service, with the village covering the portion that would otherwise be covered through fares. According to the budget document, the portion paid by the village of Niles will increase by the same amount as Pace’s portion.

Before adopting the budget, Pace held 13 public hearings in Chicago and the six suburban counties it serves. According to Rocky Donahue, one of Pace’s Deputy Executive Directors, riders that attended those meetings didn’t have many complaints about the budget.

“Two comments were on the issue of the fare increases,” he said. “One was supportive; one was just clarification. When [the rider] realized that Ventra fares would remain the same, they realized that they were fine.”

While the budget is balanced, the paratransit service portion of the budget is only balanced if Illinois pays the annual $8.5 million paratransit grant. In a statement, Wilmot wrote that if the grant doesn’t materialize, Pace may need to raise paratransit fares to cover the cost.

“If the grant is not received and the paratransit program faces a budget shortfall, a fare increase may need to be proposed at a later date,” he wrote.

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