Eighty people angrily protested Ventra and other CTA service issues during a contentious public hearing Nov. 12, concerning the agency’s budget.
Less than 24 hours later the CTA board approved its budget for next year without addressing a single concern raised the night before.
The agency’s $1.38 billion operating budget was approved unanimously; $44 million above this year’s budget.
“The proposed $1.4 billion 2014 operating budget freezes fares and preserves service levels; ridership is projected to remain strong and increase next year by 1 percent, to 534.6 million riders,” said Tom McKone, CTA vice president of budget, management and finance at last week’s board meeting at CTA headquarters downtown.
The budget also reflects decreases to fuel expenses, down $4.1 million, and security services, $24.1 million below projections.
Officials said the CTA’s fuel hedging policy and a staffing switch from contracted security officers to customer service agents are expected to save the agency money. Moving from contract to employed security officers, however, will increase labor expenses $37.3 million next year to $973 million. Wages will also go up.
McKone said next year’s budget also reflects cost efficiency efforts, the addition of 1,000 new jobs, and no transfers of assets.
The rosy picture presented, though, didn’t reflect the anger coursing through the budget hearing room. About 20 people took center stage at the hearing in protest of Ventra and its parent company, Cubic, which specializes in transportation revenue collection systems, as well as military and security services.
One protestor, Teresa Veramendi, 28, of Lakeview, said she refuses to buy a Ventra card because she’s skeptical of company’s controversial ties to military surveillance.
“I have a deeper problem with the privatization of public services. It seems like that’s Rahm Emanuel’s agenda — to privatize and sell out the common citizens of Chicago,” Veramendi said. “I don’t want to give my information to a company that sells information to the government.”
Brian Steele, CTA vice president of communications, said the hearing was meant for the comments on the budget.
“Obviously, we want to hear from all the people who show up to this meeting, but we’ve got a handful of people with signs about Ventra,” he said of Tuesday’s protest. “Ventra is not a budget issue. Ventra has nothing to do with the 2014 budget.”
The CTA placed Ventra switchover deadlines on hold indefinitely until Cubic can resolve issues with the system.