This page describes activities in our region's response to the COVID-19 pandemic's effects on transit. Please visit the websites of CTA, Metra, and Pace for current information about their services. Scroll down this page for adjustments to RTA Reduced Fare and Ride Free Programs for seniors and persons with disabilities.
NEW, 4-29-21: RTA Executive Director on WBEZ. To conclude a week-long "Closing the Gap" series about how to achieve more equitable transportation, Sasha-Ann Simons of the WBEZ Reset spoke with RTA Executive Director Leanne Redden, who reinforced the agency's commitment to transit equity, especially as it pertains to COVID recovery. The segment starts about halfway through this 18-minute clip, which begins with Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle and Superintendent of Transportation Jennifer “Sis” Killen.
4-15-21: RTA reports on region-wide survey of riders. While 80 percent of "lapsed" riders intend to resume using transit, telecommuting may not return to pre-pandemic levels per results from a new RTA survey. Read more in a press release and blog post, along with coverage by WTTW, the Chicago Tribune, Crain's, and Streetsblog Chicago.
Transit is crucial for economic recovery from the COVID pandemic, and significant financial challenges mean this can’t be taken for granted. To keep stakeholders informed, RTA resources include:
- Twice-monthly COVID Update emails (subscribe and see archive)
- The RTA COVID Transit Dashboard, updated weekly with statistics about the pandemic's effects
- Materials and videos from RTA Board meetings where COVID response is discussed monthly
- PDF guide for returning safely to transit in the Chicago region
- Report from fall 2020 summarizing RTA COVID recovery scenario planning
Three-Step COVID Recovery Strategy
Operations of CTA, Metra, and Pace have been able to continue due to funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that passed in March 2020 and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) that passed in December 2020. To lead the regional transit system through the COVID pandemic, in October 2020 the RTA began a three-step strategy:
Step 1 culminated on December 17 when the RTA Board adopted the 2021 regional transit operating budget and five-year capital program. As described in an RTA press release, 2021 operations rely in part on passage of a new federal COVID relief package, without which the regional transit system would face a potential shortfall of more than $500 million.
Step 2, which began in January 2021, defined an effective, transparent, and accountable process for allocating $486.2 million that the region will receive from the second federal relief package that passed in December 2020, providing $14 billion for transit systems nationwide. (See following section for details.)
Step 3 will begin in May 2021, taking a long-term, strategic planning approach that looks out to 2023 and beyond.
More about COVID recovery Step 2, January-June 2021
Prior to passage of the second federal COVID relief bill — known as the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) — our region’s transit system was facing a potential 2021 operations gap of $500 million.
As part of Step 2 in the regional transit system's three-step COVID recovery strategy, on February 18, 2021, the RTA Board approved release of a draft process for sustaining critical transit during the pandemic. While the projected operating shortfall was averted thanks to $486.2 million from CRRSAA and $106.9 million from better-than-forecasted sales tax revenues, this process remains invaluable for ensuring that transit during the pandemic continues to serve those who need it most.
In a presentation and materials for the RTA Board meeting on March 18, staff responded to public comments on that draft report and methodology for allocating federal COVID relief dollars. The RTA Board then voted to allocate CRRSAA funds and approve a budget amendment to allow the Service Boards to access these funds.
See a staff memo describing these allocations and the Sustaining Critical Transit in 2021 report, which now includes an appendix of public comments received from February 18 to March 5. (A YouTube video of the Board's March 18 meeting is also available.) The report defines transit Critical Need Areas (CNAs) and relates them to existing service to inform the RTA’s funding decisions in 2021. Also, see an interactive RTA Story Map that offers insights into how CNAs are being identified. Application of the work to a recommended allocation of the region’s CRRSAA federal relief money is unique to this moment and does not set a precedent for future allocations of any funding. Yet it is a helpful way for the RTA Board and the public to understand where the greatest need for transit exists right now and to sustain critical transit without delving into service planning or operation.
Therefore, on March 18, 2021, the RTA Board approved CRRSAA allocations as follows. Note that PTF is the state Public Transportation Fund, and RETT is the Real Estate Transfer Tax.
CARES Act funding, March 2020
The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocated $25 billion for public transit nationwide, including more than $1.4 billion for the RTA region that can go toward reimbursement for operating costs to maintain service and lost revenue due to coronavirus. At this time the CARES Act funding is the only known source of supplemental operating funding for transit in the face of what may be a long-term decline of ridership and revenue. As a result, the region’s transit funding allocations were based on anticipated revenue shortages of the current 2020 regional budget, which have been projected and agreed to by the RTA and the Service Boards based on ridership and public funding shortfalls. The region’s CARES Act funds were allocated as follows:
Transit leaders discuss pandemic response on WTTW
On August 6, 2020, WTTW’s Chicago Tonight featured two segments on public transportation’s importance to the regional economic recovery from COVID-19. RTA Executive Director Leanne Redden, CTA President Dorval R. Carter Jr., Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski, and Pace Executive Director Rocky Donahue, described how the transit agencies have together created a culture of COVID prevention.
RTA Service Changes
Due to the pandemic, all RTA customer service offices are closed. Updates on RTA-managed ridership programs can be found below.
Reduced Fare and Ride Free Programs
- For customers who have a Reduced Fare or Ride Free permit that has expired or will expire during the pandemic, the RTA will be extending a one-time courtesy of automatically renewing eligibility so these customers can continue access reduced fares without needing to take action to renew. A new permit will come in the mail prior to the expiration of the current permit.
- Customers who are applying for a Reduced Fare or Ride Free Permit for the first time can download a Reduced Fare and/or Ride Free application online.
- Call 312-913-3110 for assistance or other questions.
RTA Travel Training Program
- The RTA is temporarily canceling all scheduled Travel Training sessions. If you are interested in Travel Training when the program resumes, or have questions about the program, please call 312-663-HELP (4357) to be placed on the Travel Training waitlist.
ADA Paratransit Certification Program
- The RTA’s South and Northwest Chicago Mobility Assessment Centers are currently closed and will not be performing interviews and assessments for ADA Paratransit Certification until further notice.
- For all customers whose ADA paratransit certification has expired or will expire during the pandemic, the RTA is extending a one-time courtesy six-month extension of eligibility.
- Call 312-663-HELP (4357) to apply for ADA paratransit eligibility for the first time or for additional questions.