Final State Task Force Report Dives Into Transit Reform Details

Metra and Elevated again
The task force proposes that CTA and Metra trains run under an integrated transit agency. Photo: Marcel Marchon

Governor Pat Quinn’s northeastern Illinois task force released its final report [PDF] yesterday, detailing recommendations from its mid-March draft. The task force launched last year, after former Metra CEO Alex Clifford resigned to protest the commuter rail operator’s long-running patronage culture.

The task force of transit experts, business and union leaders spends most of the report writing about how regional transit governance developed, starting with CTA’s formation in 1947 and the RTA in 1974, and describing how previous transit reforms failed to create a coordinated planning capacity at RTA and instead simply patched a broken funding system.

Their recommendation to create a unified transit agency that would replace the existing RTA is also joined by new recommendations to restore public faith in Chicagoland transit, and to create a system that better supports the economy and residents’ needs.

Transit service, vehicle purchases, and infrastructure upgrades should be planned cohesively in all areas and for all modes, instead of by the RTA and independently by Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace. (Metra, the report says, hasn’t released a capital plan since 1992 and “does little more than list capital improvements in its annual budget.”)

The task force highlights the disparity between job locations and transit access that we’ve reported before and recommends including development around transit as a performance measure. Doing this, the report says, would incentivize municipalities to develop plans and policies that focus development near transit. In other words, if certain towns want more funding for better transit, they’re going to have to ensure that developers build near transit.

In one of the new recommendations, the report suggests eliminating “overly restrictive laws to allow additional public service, like local buses [operated by cities], and private service, like jitneys.” Right now, it says, any public bus service must be coordinated by Pace and CTA.

Recognizing that paratransit is growing faster than all other transit modes, and costs more to run, the report adds the new recommendation to “prioritize universal accessibility.” “If the transit system is universally accessible,” the task force writes, “fewer people will need to rely on more expensive paratransit service.”

In designing a new governance structure, we’ve known that the task force wanted to “increase state representation on transit boards” because the state funds part of Chicagoland transit. That’s in contrast to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who feels the CTA shouldn’t be party to a unified agency because, as a mayoral spokesperson said, “Chicagoans demand a public transportation framework that is accountable to riders and taxpayers, which is what we have at the CTA.”

The report acknowledges Emanuel’s remarks and notes that World Business Chicago, an economic development non-profit that the mayor chairs, released a report in 2012 that “recommended a strategy to ‘reduce fragmentation and improve inter-governmental coordination and cooperation to provide a greater return on public investment’.”

The task force stops short of recommending a specific board structure and says that, initially, the unified transit agency’s service be divided into legacy CTA, Pace, and Metra structures. Illinois Senator Daniel Biss’s proposal proposed four divisions separated by mode.

Even though the report does not recommend a specific board structure, it does describe a model integrated transit agency. One new board and 21 members, it suggests, could replace the 47 members on four existing boards. In the “model” example, the Mayor, Governor, Cook County president, and five collar county presidents would equally share appointments, and the Governor would appoint a board chair.

Although the task force doesn’t recommend new funding schemes for Chicagoland transit, it believes that better management made possible by a streamlined governance and coordinated planning will introduce new efficiencies. Their recommendation to “seek new revenues” is one the least developed parts of the report.

The report also points out that the CTA serves 38 suburbs and that only 45 percent of its public funding came from sales taxes paid in Chicago, with the other 55 percent coming from suburban sales taxes and the state public transportation fund. Future funding shouldn’t be allocated by arbitrary, historic distribution formulas that pits the city against counties and the CTA against Metra and Pace, the report says, but tied to system performance instead.

The task force detailed the long history of appalling ethics violations at the region’s transit boards and recommends solutions to prevent further scandals and nepotism.

Like Biss’s proposal, the task force recommends that appointees to the single board must be selected from a pool of candidates selected and vetted by an “independent group… to promote civic acceptability.” They suggest the governor’s appointees be confirmed by “the Illinois Senate or other appropriate entity.”

Each appointee should have relevant experience, undergo a background check, and reveal potential conflicts of interest before the appointment instead of after, which is currently the case. Finally, no board member should be compensated besides direct expenses like travel. The report noted that board members of New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and San Francisco transit agencies – all places with greater transit investments than Chicago – work without pay.

What are the next steps? The report urges the state legislature to first pass new ethics legislation. Next, the report urges that a steering committee be set up within one year to design an integrated transit agency, to be created by the legislature within another year. Afterwards, the new transit agency would develop a regional plan to “achieve world-class transit” based on performance measures outlined by the task force. With the task force’s work complete, it’s now up to Governor Quinn and the state legislature to respond in the middle of a difficult election year.

Meanwhile, a new funding proposal is on the horizon. Cook County president Toni Preckwinkle and Jacky Grimshaw – Center for Neighborhood Technology vice president – will join Mayor Emanuel on Thursday evening at the University Club to relaunch the “Transit Future” campaign. They will call for a “new, dedicated revenue source for capital investments in transit” for Cook County and Chicago and “unlock millions in federal and other funding.”

  • Fbfree

    “Although the task force doesn’t identify new funding schemes for Chicagoland transit,”

    Pages 39 through 41 identify possible mechanisms to increase transit funding. It’s an integral part of the Findings.

    We need to play up both the importance of increased funding and the establishment of a vision of regional mobility. The report makes specific note that the governance restructure is only one step required to make transit successful. Significantly increased funding (around 50% to 100% increase) and a clear set of regional goals are equally important.

  • oooBooo

    Funded on the backs of motorists, the working man, and general commerce as usual.

  • duppie

    All three of which profit from efficient and well-funded transit.

  • oooBooo

    All three of which profit from efficient and well funded road systems.

  • Perhaps identify is the wrong word. That list was presented as a place to start looking. They didn’t recommend any funding sources.

  • Duh. We can have both.

  • oooBooo

    So the argument that roads should be 100% funded by taxation of motorists will be dropped?

  • mhls

    Roads are not paid for by motorists and their fees alone. Never have been.

    For example, road salt in Chicago is paid with money from the general fund.

  • duppie

    The repaving of my residential street was funded by a bond issued by the State of Illinois. The bond is supposed to be paid off by gambling revenue.

  • Rob

    How else would they be funded? Personally I think they are leaving out one important transit mode and that is the airports. They should not be controlled only by Chicago but by this super transit agency for the benefit of the whole region. If managed properly they could be a source of funding for the whole system

  • Fbfree

    Do take a look at section II of the report. It one of the most straightforward assessments of what transit can do in awhile. It follows a lot of themes that are on this blog, but with a committee’s voice behind it.

    Yes, either higher taxes or a significant reallocation of funding priorities would be required, but that is the price for the very immense benefits we would receive.

    Of course, taxation will have to come part and parcel with a detailed set of goals, initial expansion plans, and restructuring of the transit boards.

  • “Chicagoans demand a public transportation framework that is accountable to riders and taxpayers, which is what we have at the CTA.”

    Exactly how is CTA “accountable”???

    Lets see: The #11 Lincoln Ave. bus discontinuence, IGNORING intense public demand for the #31 31st St. bus line, the hated seats on the 5000 Class “L” cars, no Southeast Corridor CTA Rail Transit, the Ashland BRT that ONLY CTA wants — Do they mean all that “accountability”.

  • Kevin M

    I agree with your complaint that the CTA is not *directly* accountable to the public. Like the school board, the mayor controls something that should be elected by the residents of Chicago.

    However, I also disagree with most of your examples. I think cutting the #11 made sense, as it carried few passengers and was duplicated better by the Brown Line. Despite negative media coverage, I (and many other people I’ve heard and read from) like the aisle-facing seats. They make a lot of sense for times when the trains are packed. And lastly, Ashland BRT is supported by a lot of people/riders and business communities along the corridor.

  • Rohrman

    I love the seats on the 5000 Series, I only wish they were true benches, and there are MANY MANY people who want the Ashland BRT.

  • oooBooo

    Apparently I was too subtle. The point I am making is much like the points I often make here that get folks into an uproar, that the arguments being made are backwards or hypocritical. In this case the later.

    A user pays argument is often made with regard to driving. Now let’s put aside for the time being if motorists pay their way or not, let’s just agree that the argument they should is made.

    Now comes a long yet another plan that shows that transit’s primary funding source idea is to tax motorists. The rest of the ideas are taxes that will also largely fall upon on non-transit users.

    To have the moral highground one must practice consisntency with their arguments.

    If transit isn’t going to seek 100% funding through the fare box, then it loses the moral high ground on the ‘users should pay all costs’ argument. The argument should then be dropped.

  • oooBooo

    Red light cameras, speed cameras, parking taxes, parking tickets, sales taxes on automotive purchases, service, and much much more goes from motorists and only motorists to the general funds. General funds greatly depend on motoring. The amount motorists pay into general funds is enormous.

    What is often done is that 100% of road infrastructure costs is compared to only a portion of what motorists pay. This of course transfers significant general cost burden to the motorist while deducting a great deal of what he pays. Of course you already know that given your deliberate choice of words.

  • oooBooo

    My point has nothing to do with the benefits of transit. But rather the logical flaws and inconsistencies in arguments.

  • Fbfree

    You made a quip, you didn’t point out flaws in any argument (in the above comment).

    What flaws do you see in the report or in my summary of it?

  • oooBooo

    The general arguments made on this site. I merely stated in a very short way what it shows on pages you mention. All it does is reinforce who really pays for things. Where government goes for money. Motorists.

  • what_eva

    The mayor controls CTA. The mayor can be voted out.

  • Fbfree

    Your not making a specific point, and it’s confusing me to the point where I just want to ignore you. I don’t want to ignore dissenting opinions where it provides an alternative way of seeing the issue.

    You’re not addressing an issue, your propagandizing an unclear sentiment that bad government grabs money only from drivers without . Your far from the only one on this website with an agenda, but fight bias by making arguments. You’re not making one.

  • jeff wegerson

    The problem with combining suburban transit with urban transit is that they have different goals and tactics. The suburbs attempt to cover a lot of territory while the city attempts to provide frequent service in the densest parts. When the two are combined then one tends to win out over the other, at the other’s expense.

    Actually Lincoln might be a good example. It provided coverage but the costs there could go to increasing frequency on the surrounding routes such that the new trips might well end taking less time when taking into consideration the time waiting for service.

    Para-Transit is an example of the dichotomy between providing universal service and providing effective service. By taking money that could provide effective frequent service in the dense urban environments to provide a very poor basic service to universal populations you end up with an inadequate urban service as well.

    Para-transit is welfare. Anyone who can afford it can take a cab. If you can’t afford it then for the state to provide it is welfare. Most welfare in the U.S. was ended by Clinton. I fully support welfare. It counteracts inequality and it stimulates local economies, both things that create a better society. But if we are not going to fully fund transit then we need to triage our funds.

    Actually, para-transit should be split off of both the CTA and the RTA/Pace. Create a totally separate system for paratransit and then let it manage its own budget.

    The real problem is all the money that the super-rich are siphoning out of the economy and doing who knows what with. Lets return to 1950s taxation of the rich when we had a great economy for everyone. Get banks out of speculation. Let banks fail and the dirty bond holders take a bath. Put the banks into receivership or even nationalize them. This is all stuff that worked really well until the rich bought up the government and got rid of regulations they didn’t like.

  • Anderson

    “The Mayor, Governor, Cook County president, and five collar county presidents would equally share appointments, and the Governor would appoint a board chair.”

    I was on-board until I read that. Having the city outnumbered two to six would be a huge blow for Chicago’s transit.

  • Nathanael

    The amount of funding which is from specifically car-related sources is ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE less than the amount which is spent on roads & for the benefit of cars.

    But you know this. You just like to lie about it.

  • oooBooo

    No it’s not. I’ll explain it again. There are taxes which motorists pay that are explicitly earmarked for roads (and then raided for other purposes) and there are taxes/fees/fines/etc which motorists pay that go into the general funds. What the anti-car crowd does is take the full costs of the roads plus numbers they make up as “externalities”, this assumes there would be no roads at all without cars and then charge that against only the earmarked funds. Sometimes taxes paid by heavy trucking are also not considered. While trucking is subsidized by private passenger vehicle users (in the USA at least) it does pay large amounts in taxes. There are also of course much in the way of general fund taxes paid by trucking.

    Thus the end result is to artificially minimize the payments and artificially maximize the costs. It’s a manipulative political calculation.

    No real accounting can be done because government intentionally keeps the numbers released to the public vague and comingles costs in the same departments. However, we do know one thing, at the end of the day, it is the motorist whom government treats as if he has a bottomless wallet. It is the road specific funds that are the solvent part of governments. Meanwhile it is motorists that are taxed for new transit projects, not the transit users paying at the farebox. Lately, when the Illinois toll road authority has a new project, it does a system wide toll increase. Thus it is a very safe bet that motoring is a money making enterprise for government.

  • This was a curious part of the report. The report says that the task force doesn’t specifically recommend a board structure but presented this one as an “example”.

  • Half the time these aren’t happening because the CTA doesn’t have any money to keep them going. So, by the mayor’s quote (via a spokesperson) means that if you aren’t satisfied with the CTA you can vote for a different mayor. Next year.

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