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No CTA Fare Hike, Despite $277 Million Deficit

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The CTA won't increase fares or cut service in the coming year -- if its unions agree to $160 million or more in work rule changes.

Changes to work rules "encrusted like barnacles on the system for over three decades" are the centerpiece of the 2012 budget that CTA President Forrest Claypool unveiled Wednesday. He said an additional $117 million in savings could be found through "management initiatives."

"We are not willing to go to our customers and ask them to pony up more money. We're not willing to tell our customers that you have to stand longer on our buses and trains, wait longer at the bus stop to get a bus, walk further to catch a train or a bus, have more crowded buses and trains until and unless we've exhausted every single alternative available to us to balance this budget," Claypool said.

And that is where the "if" comes in.

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Claypool wants to begin talks with CTA unions as soon as possible and either reach agreement on a new contract that incorporates the work rule changes or an arbitrator's ruling by July 1. If the talks fail, he said CTA could raise fares, cut service and lay off as many as 1,000 workers.

Claypool gave a series of examples of work rules that he believes should change. He cited a rule that requires workers from three unions to change flat tires on buses in the field. He said separate crews must now operate within 100 yards of its Skokie Shops, requiring crews bringing trains to the facility to turn them over to another crew.

He said sick leave abuse requires CTA to carry more than double the number of spare bus drivers and rapid transit operators that it would otherwise.

Most rapid transit systems employ extra operators, a practice known as the "extra board."

Claypool also singled out extra pay given to rapid transit operators at the beginning and end of their shifts, saying that it is a bonus "to show up early."

Not so, said Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Division 308 President Robert Kelly, whose local represents employees on the 'L.'

Singling out the extra pay rule, Kelly said CTA employees must complete office paperwork, go to the yard, check to see that they have the right train and check the train front to back to make sure there are no problems that would require its removal from service. He said all of that must be done within 10 minutes. At the end of each shift, he said, there are two minutes of extra pay, even though workers must walk front to back to make sure all passengers are off the train.

"There's no 15-minute paid break time there," he said.

Despite that, Kelly said, he is not sure what CTA seeks.

"They have never given us one piece of paper that says this is what we want from you," he said.

He said any contract negotiated will go to the rank-and-file for approval and said Claypool's desire to complete work on the new contract by July 1 may not be realistic, especially if it goes to arbitration.

"Since I've been here, our arbitrations take a year and a half to two years, even with discharge cases," he said. "I'm not going to speculate on the time frame."

Riders also seemed skeptical that the unions will go along.

"No, that won't work," said Larry Williams, a West Side CTA rider who said he believes fares are already too high.

The prospect of a July fare hike or service cuts do not please Daniel Pizzoferato, who said that would be "horrible" and "devastating."

A rider named Amanda, who rides both Metra and CTA to get to and from work, said she finds it "noble" that CTA would try to hold the line on fares during a time of economic hardship.

But another rider, James Watts, of Hyde Park, said he believes every CTA rider under 65 should pay a $2.25 fare -- no passes or free rides.

Kelly said he believes CTA may be making a mistake in not raising fares by 25 cents, saying of riders, "They probably wouldn't mind paying 25 cents more -- if that bus was there or that train was there every single time it was supposed to be so they could plan their day and if they knew they were safe on those buses and trains. That's the main thing here."

The state of Illinois owes the CTA $102.7 million and is five months behind in payments, officials said.

Kelly expects contract talks to begin the first week of November.

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