JEFFERSON PARK — Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a brisk, terse, "no" on Tuesday when asked if reduced funding from Springfield would lead to Chicago Transit Authority fare hikes.
CTA President Forrest Claypool immediately echoed that, saying a $14 million cut in funding for state-mandated free and reduced fares would not lead to a rate hike.
Claypool called the cuts "unfortunate," but Emanuel went further, saying, "I would call it wrongheaded."
The two said state funding already makes up only a fraction of the estimated $100 million the CTA spends on government-mandated free and reduced rides for seniors and the disabled.
"We can't control Springfield. We can only control what we're doing," Claypool said.
Claypool said the CTA would push to have the funding reinstated during the General Assembly's veto session.
"Don't make our lives worse," he argued. "We're not asking you to bail us out or anything like maybe in the past. Please don't make the problem worse."
Without reinstatement of the funding, the CTA would seek to make up the potential budget shortfall through increased advertising and concession fees on public transport, as well as reduced costs, Claypool said.
One reduction is the drop in CTA absenteeism Claypool and Emanuel trumpeted at a news conference at a CTA bus facility in Jefferson Park Tuesday.
According to the CTA, the average daily absenteeism rate dropped from 7.1 percent in 2011 to 6.4 percent in 2012 and 5.5 percent this year, falling below 5 percent in May and June. They credited management initiatives and stiffer work rules, such as cracking down on sick days used on Mondays and Fridays and on extremely warm or cold and snowy days.
That produced a savings of $10 million, they said, as costs associated with absenteeism, such as overtime for other drivers, dropped from $40 million to $30 million.
"The vast, vast majority of our employees work hard every day," Claypool said. But he acknowledged that, when Emanuel placed him in charge of the agency two years ago, "there was a notable problem with absenteeism."
"This is real money, $10 million, taxpayers are saving," Emanuel said. The mayor cited a similar crackdown on absenteeism in Streets and Sanitation and said he was encouraging all city departments to follow suit.