Critics of a proposed CTA fare increase Thursday accused the transit system of forcing Chicago’s poorest riders to shoulder the burden caused by a $49 million budget shortfall.

“We believe city hall needs to step up and help bridge the budget gap,” said John Paul Jones, director of community outreach at Neighborhood Capital Budget Group’s Campaign for Better Transit. “It shouldn’t be on the backs of the unemployed and disenfranchised.”

Jones made the comment prior to a public hearing on the CTA’s fare hike proposition. The hearing at CTA headquarters at 567 West Lake Street is the only chance riders can publicly voice comments before the fare increase question comes up for consideration by the full CTA board on Nov. 9.

Chicago Transit Authority officials announced in a 2006 budget proposal they may raise fares by 25 cents and eliminate cash transfers on both trains and buses. CTA President Frank Kruesi proposed the fare increase, from $1.75 to $2, in order to maintain current service levels, he said earlier this month. The last fare increase-25 cents-was in January, 2004. That boosted the cash strapped CTA’s revenue by $30 million.

Supporters of the increase say riders can save money by purchasing a Chicago Card or Chicago Card Plus (Smart Cards) at designated locations or on the internet for only $1.75 per ride. Payment would still be required for every transfer.

Kruesi said that many people are already used to not using cash to ride buses and trains. He said CTA data shows that the largest percentage of economically disadvantaged people already use the unlimited fare card.

“The facts are just the opposite of what the arguments are,” said Kruesi.

Carol Brown, the chairwoman of the CTA Board, said that if everyone switched to Smart Cards, the CTA would save approximately $1 million a year. She said officials are working to put in more locations to buy the cards.

Many sections of the city don’t have access to rail lines, which results in about two-thirds of riders using the bus system, Jones said. Elimination of transfers would force riders to pay a full fare every time they transfer, he said.