Transit is crucial for economic recovery, and significant financial challenges mean this can’t be taken for granted. The pandemic’s effects on transit are alarming and ongoing, with dramatic decreases in ridership and revenues. CTA, Metra, and Pace (known as the three Service Boards) have continued providing safe, reliable trips to meet dramatically shifting customer needs. Their staff continue to perform heroically.
This page links to a number of activities in our region's response to the COVID-19 pandemic's effects on transit. Visit the websites of CTA, Metra, and Pace for current information about their services. Scroll down this page for information about adjustments to RTA Reduced Fare and Ride Free Programs for seniors and persons with disabilities.
Regional COVID Response
The RTA Board voted to adopt the 2021 regional transit operating budget and five-year capital program on December 17, 2020. 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. Operations of CTA, Metra, and Pace have been able to continue due to a previous $1.4 billion infusion from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was passed last March.
Because those funds would begin running out in the first half of 2021, the RTA and all three transit Service Boards worked together with the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) to call on Congress for additional federal relief, which then passed in late December 2020. This second relief package includes $14 billion for transit systems nationwide, significantly less than the $32 billion requested by APTA and its partners. But the new funding should allow transit operations in our region to continue, and the RTA is committed to working with the Service Boards to ensure an effective, transparent, and accountable process for allocating these dollars.
COVID Recovery Resources
RTA activities to support COVID recovery include:
- Staff memo on the three-step RTA strategy for COVID recovery planning for 2021 and beyond.
- Twice-monthly email updates about COVID effects on transit and the regional response.
- Materials and videos from RTA Board meetings where COVID response is discussed monthly
- The RTA COVID Transit dashboard, updated weekly with statistics about the pandemic's effects
- A PDF guide for returning safely to transit in the Chicago region
- Report summarizing RTA COVID recovery scenario planning
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. The trains and buses have never been cleaner, and it is vitally important for riders to do their part by wearing masks at all times. The panelists also explained that, while federal CARES Act relief dollars have sustained operations so far, difficult choices still lie ahead due to decreased ridership and revenues.
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 are 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:
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.