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Returned from a whirlwind weekend in New York City… made many mental observations, and I need to translate those to type here.

In the meantime, this little gem from the CTA Tattler:

CTA proposes raising fares in early 2010

If this change goes through – $3.00 for a single train ride and $2.50 for bus – it will officially make Chicago more expensive to travel in (passes aside) than New York, for which I paid $2.25 per ride (Chicago’s current fare for both bus and train).  But, I look on the bright side:  when I was in London, the one-way ticket was 2 pounds; now it’s L4, which at the current exchange rate ($1.58) is $6.32.  Go USA!

Seriously though, it will be rough if this change goes through.  Not only for all the people who, working low-pay jobs and/or supporting families, can barely afford their monthly pass in order to get to work; but also for any hope of convincing people to stop driving in the city.  As it is, many people I know find driving (even with the added irritation of parking) more convenient and economical than taking one or more trains and/or buses to get to where they want to go.  Making it significantly more expensive is a major disincentive for a behavior many don’t consider in the first place.

The costs of public transit, of course, are not easy to meet – and the CTA, like many similar organizations, are legally mandated to balance their budget at the end of each year.  As far as I have heard, however, no transit system can meet its costs “from the farebox,” so I’m not sure a fare hike is the answer here, and might in fact only break even if fewer people choose to ride.

I guess what I’m saying is, it’s complicated.  But taking the subway in NYC made me appreciate two things about Chicago:

1) As much as I’ve complained about the bad design of the El(evated) system, it is pretty damn cool to be able to see the streets you’re traveling en route.  The short trip across the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn was the best view I had all weekend.

2) The NYC system is definitely more comprehensive, in that you can get to more places via subway (and presumably bus).  It still has annoying construction reroutes, which were pretty confusing to figure out, and several times I ended up waiting a while for a train (longer than I ever remember waiting in London or Paris).  Judging from the impatience of those around me, it was either atypical, or both delay and reaction are typical.

Long story short:  Chicago’s CTA isn’t great, but NYC’s MTA isn’t actually much better!  Except in that people actually use it.