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CNT and Active Trans Launch “Transit Future” Funding Campaign

TF map no text

Map showing potential expansion of the local rapid transit system. Image: CNT

On Monday, Governor Quinn’s Northeast Illinois Public Transit Taskforce released its final report, underscoring the need for better funding for regional transit. Yesterday, the Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Active Transportation Alliance launched a new campaign, dubbed “Transit Future,” to raise that money via a new Cook County-based revenue stream that would help the region leverage federal dollars.

Transit Future calls on the Cook County Board of Commissioners to create a dedicated funding source for maintaining and expanding the transit system in Chicago and the rest of the county. Creating this revenue stream would allow the region to take advantage of federal funding sources like America Fast Forward, which provides long-term, low interest loans to cities for construction projects.

The campaign is inspired by the successful drive to raise $40 billion for public transportation in Los Angeles, which is bankrolling the largest expansion of transit in the region’s history. That campaign, called Move LA and spearheaded by former LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former Santa Monica mayor Denny Zane, led to voters approving a half-cent sales tax increase in a 2008 referendum called Measure R. By 2013, four new transit lines had opened, with two more under construction.

Villaraigosa and Zane, as well as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook Count Board President Toni Preckwinkle, showed up to support Transit Future at a launch party last night at the University Club of Chicago, 76 East Monroe. A map on display at the event showed the potential for expanding the local rapid transit system.

In addition to well-publicized projects that will extend the South Red Line and build bus rapid transit on Chicago’s Ashland Avenue, the map shows other line extensions and new routes outlined in the region’s GO TO 2040 plan. Existing lines could be expanded to suburban destinations like Old Orchard, Schaumburg, Oak Brook, and Ford City, while new north-south lines could parallel Cicero Avenue and connect O’Hare and Midway airports.

Jacky Grimshaw, vice president for policy at CNT and director of Transit Future, emceed the event. “Building a world-class transit system requires a steady, long-term investment,” she told the crowd. “We’ve been falling short. There are over $20 billion in potential projects that are just sitting on the shelf that will help us to expand and improve our system, so that we can’t afford to fall short any longer.”

Emanuel told the audience that a coordinated effort between the city and county to create dedicated transit funding could unlock the region’s economic potential. “Our ability to recruit new companies, our ability to see companies expand, our ability for families to go from where they live to work, is dependent on a 21st Century public transportation system,” he said. “Because people years ago made a great investment, Chicago had the opportunity to become the city it is. For us to become the city we want to be, we have to continue to make that commitment to our public transportation system.” He noted that the city is already taking advantage of federal transportation loans for projects like the Red Line’s 95th Street station rehab and the Chicago Riverwalk extension.

Read more…

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Regional Transit Needs New Funding to Meet $20 Billion Backlog

Red South Reconstruction - Sep. 17, 2013

The Regional Transportation Authority estimates $20 billion is needed to clear the transit infrastructure maintenance backlog. Photo: CTA

Transit systems in Northeastern Illinois face a $20 billion maintenance backlog. Now the question is how to pay for it.

Governor Pat Quinn’s Northeastern Illinois transit task force has shown some of the possibilities at the region’s disposal, but hasn’t staked out a position on how to secure the necessary revenue to keep Chicagoland’s track, trains, and buses from sliding into disrepair.

All told, the Regional Transportation Authority estimates that $20 billion is necessary to bring existing transit infrastructure into a state of good repair, with an initial five-year outlay of $4.7 billion called for in its capital plan. Expanding service will require funding in addition to meeting those maintenance needs.

The transit task force highlighted 12 funding sources used by national transit agencies and reviewed many short-term financial options “common in the private” sector. New funding sources could include fuel taxes, a broader sales tax that covers services, a payroll tax, land development charges, and parking fees. However, the task force stopped short of recommending new funding sources for the integrated transit agency it proposes.

The task force analyzed regional transit’s existing funding, noting how reactive the transit agencies’ financial planning has been. “The region,” the task force writes, “lacks a strategic financial plan for transit that does more than show funding gaps based on the status quo.” The agencies don’t work together, so there’s no “coordinated planning for investments to increase or improve inter-system connectivity.” CTA, Metra, and Pace have a “natural desire” to “minimize RTA oversight” and choose priorities independently — or not choose at all, as Metra has done since 1992 by not adopting a capital plan.

Currently, highway and transit projects are partially funded by state and federal fuel taxes, levied in cents per gallon of gas or diesel sold. However, both taxes are in decline as gas sales slip; the federal Highway Trust Fund will again run out of money this summer. A new fuel sales tax would instead tax the final purchase price, at a set percentage. The report calls it “easy and inexpensive to implement and administer,” but could push drivers to buy gas outside the area, or switch to electric vehicles.

The report specifically warns against continued reliance on federal gas tax grants, which paid for a quarter of Chicagoland’s transit construction projects between 2002 and 2012. “At best,” the task force writes, “future federal funds for transit will stagnate, at worst they will decline.” Read more…

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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. Read more…

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A Clearer, More Concise Regional Transit Proposal From Senator Biss

Daniel Biss's new RTA board makeup proposal

Biss’s unified RTA proposal has 19 members, all appointed by the governor with approval from 10 of 13 members of a regional transit council with locally appointed members.

At least one Illinois legislator supports a unified transit agency, even though RTA board chairman John Gates and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have declared their opposition.

Senator Daniel Biss (D-9th, Evanston, Glenview) published a proposal [PDF] back in November, saying “the CTA, Metra, and Pace should combine into a single new Regional Transit Authority.” That was months before Governor Quinn’s transit task force issued a similar recommendation, due to be released in final form next week.

Biss’s proposal calls for a streamlined RTA, with gubernatorial appointees who would need to be vetted by representatives from Chicago and its suburbs. While it leaves a few key questions unanswered — namely, how long people would serve on the new agency’s board, and how they could be removed from office — the plan is a solid attempt at reforming regional transit governance without turning the new agency into the governor’s plaything.

In the proposal, a new RTA with a 19-member board would replace the existing RTA board, three service boards, and their combined 47 members. The governor would appoint every board member, with the supermajority approval of a new Regional Transit Council — made up of members appointed by the Chicago mayor, suburban Cook County commissioners, and board presidents from the collar counties (DuPage, Kane, Will, McHenry, and Lake).

The new RTA board would comprise five representatives from Chicago, five from suburban Cook County, five from the collar counties, and one representative from Chicago’s Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. New to Chicagoland transit boards would be three non-voting positions: a Citizens’ Advisory Board member, a Metra operating railroads rep, and an RTA union rep.

Read more…

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Emanuel, CTA President Come Out Against Unified Regional Transit Agency

Elevator shaft at LaSalle Street Station

The intermodal connection the Chicago Department of Transportation added to the LaSalle Metra station in 2011 is one of the rare inter-agency improvements made in the last 5 years.

The transit task force Governor Pat Quinn convened last year after the Metra governance scandal continues to discuss the merits of a single transit authority to replace the Regional Transportation Authority and absorb Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace. Count Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTA President Forrest Claypool among the opponents of that idea.

Emanuel and Claypool came out strongly against the proposal because they believe the CTA would become less accountable to Chicagoans. Emanuel spokesperson Sarah Hamilton told the Sun-Times:

Chicagoans demand a public transportation framework that is accountable to riders and taxpayers, which is what we have at the CTA. The mayor is not interested in a solution that replaces one unaccountable bureaucracy with another.

Hamilton’s right that Chicagoans – and residents of the 35 other municipalities the CTA serves – deserve accountable transit agencies. And under Emanuel, the CTA has had a lot of wins, including new stations, new buses, and a successful Red Line South revamp.

But the CTA isn’t the only organization that’s part of the discussion. Pace and Metra — and all the riders who depend on their services — also need to be considered. These riders don’t care who is providing the bus from home to work, whether it’s Pace or CTA, or whether the Chicago mayor is calling the shots or not.

What matters is the rider. Would a regional transit agency serve the region’s transit riders better than the status quo? It certainly could help address some of the problems that are plaguing Chicagoland transit.

Right now, the region’s transit agencies basically compete for riders. Different agencies run similar routes that serve the same trips, and all three agencies have their own marketing departments, appealing to the same pool of potential customers. The agencies don’t make much effort to integrate fares, other than some extremely limited inter-agency transfers.

And instead of making a collective case to the state legislature for funding, each service board is, in effect, represented separately by various state legislators whose constituencies are easily divided along “agency lines.” A unified agency could be structured to allocate funding by performance instead of by geography: The task force recommends that any distribution of funds by formula incorporate performance measures. Read more…

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More State Control Over Chicagoland Transit Is a Bad Idea

Governor Quinn and Mayor Emanuel Unveil.CTA’s New Red Line South

IDOT Secretary Ann Schneider’s office would get more control over Chicagoland transit in Governor Quinn’s transit task force recommendations. Photo: IDOT

On Tuesday, the Northeastern Public Transit Task Force, created after former Metra CEO Alex Clifford’s abrupt resignation and the ensuing severance package scandal last summer, issued four different options for restructuring regional transit governance [PDF]. While there’s a lot of variation among the four options, they would all hand more power to the governor. This is the wrong direction to take.

The task force recommended that in any option, the Illinois governor should have more transit board appointments because the state provides a “significant portion of transit operating and capital funding.” But the governor already has too much say over regional transit.

The governor currently exerts control through the Illinois DOT (through which funding passes), appointments to Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning committees that also choose which projects to fund, and the appointment of three Chicago Transit Authority board members. Will Chicago transit be better off if we hand over more power to the governor and IDOT?

Stephen Smith wrote in Next City about the pitfalls of New York’s governor-controlled MTA: “Concentrating power over regional transit in the hands of the governor — even if that region happens to be a state’s main economic engine — has not turned out well for New York, and it’s unclear why it would work any better for Chicago.” Just because the MTA is a state agency does not mean that the governor has become accountable for its performance:

When New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo does involve himself in MTA affairs, it’s either to take away money or claim credit for projects that were already underway before he came along. On the most pressing MTA issues — its cripplingly high costs or its mound of expired labor contracts — the governor disengages completely.

Two of the four options would eliminate the RTA and put Chicagoland transit under greater IDOT control: one by transferring oversight and federal and state funding decisions to IDOT while retaining the three service boards, the other by making IDOT fully “responsible for coordinating the regional transit system,” wresting control of the RTA board from the City of Chicago’s Mayor, Cook County commissioners, and surrounding counties’ boards – which is clearly the worst-case scenario.

Putting control of Chicagoland transit in the state’s hands would exacerbate existing problems. The state and IDOT are already showering money on boondoggles like the Illiana Tollway and IL-53 extension over Chicago’s objections. These two options would further entrench IDOT’s ability to allocate resources. Read more…

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Cook County Seeks Feedback on First Transportation Plan Since 1940

53rd Street Vision Workshop

Preckwinkle, standing on the left, at a planning workshop in her former 4th Ward. Photo: Eric Rogers

Cook County has begun the process of creating its first transportation plan since its 1940 highway plan. The Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways is collecting feedback from residents on present and future transportation needs.

“Connecting Cook County” launched late last month, and the long-range transportation plan will guide Cook County’s investments. Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle said in a statement, “We can no longer continue to make one-off transportation investments. We need a coherent strategy.”

The planning process, to be completed in 18 months, is led by the Transportation and Highway Department (which didn’t always have “transportation” in its name) alongside an advisory committee with local transit advocacy heavyweights, including MarySue Barrett of the Metropolitan Planning Council and Jacky Grimshaw of the Center for Neighborhood Technology.

The county’s online survey uses the now-familiar MetroQuest platform where residents can pin ideas and note problem areas on a map. A couple of Streetsblog readers who’ve taken the survey told us that it would be easier for them to send feedback if they knew which roads were under the county’s jurisdiction. I passed along that information to one of the planners and created a map in the meantime.

The Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, Pace, and the Chicago Department of Transportation will all be part of the planning process.

Streets under county jurisdiction include the Fullerton Avenue speedway west of Sacramento, Western Avenue, most of Ashland Avenue, and portions of several smaller streets.

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What Good Chicagoland Regional Planning Looks Like

CMAP at Round Lake Heights Village Festival

CMAP helps Chicagoland communities develop their own plans to implement the goals of GO TO 2040. Photo: CMAP

By now, Streetsblog readers know all about how the Illiana Tollway, a proposed highway that will see little use and cost taxpayers $500 million, has messed up our regional plan. Last October, the MPO Policy Committee of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning voted to add the Illiana to the GO TO 2040 plan, allowing the Illinois Department of Transportation to go ahead and build it, even though the project actually works against the plan’s goal of focusing growth near existing infrastructure.

This vote, like the Circle Interchange decision before it, threatened the integrity of regional planning in Chicagoland. The painstaking GO TO 2040 planning process involved countless partners who had agreed that other projects should get priority over these two highway expansions.

GO TO 2040 had been a widely-lauded plan. This year the federal Environmental Protection Agency presented CMAP a Smart Growth Achievement Award for GO TO 2040 (not the first accolade). The EPA touts GO TO 2040 as a “policy-based plan” that “actively engaged regional partners and local stakeholders” and got feedback from 35,000 residents.

The only good thing that came out of IDOT commandeering this regional planning process was a better understanding of how to prevent it from happening again.

This award-winning plan deserves first-rate implementation. It’s not much of a plan if the region doesn’t stick to it. So I asked three policy makers in Chicago to describe how GO TO 2040 should be implemented going forward. 

Amanda Woodall is the director of policy and planning at Active Transportation Alliance. She says that “implementation of any plan rests largely on two things: funding and capacity,” and “CMAP is out in front of both.” CMAP decides how to allocate certain funds, like federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds, which Woodall calls “a tremendous incentive for communities to tackle congestion mitigation and to create a world-class transportation system.”

Woodall mentioned CMAP’s Local Technical Assistance grant program as giving communities the ability “to take on these projects.” This program essentially allows communities and organizations to ask for help in creating plans that will attain the goals of GO TO 2040 at the local scale.

Active Trans has contributed to plans around Chicagoland, including Oak Pak’s Comprehensive Plan, Des Plaines River Trail Access Plan, and the Village of Wheeling Active Transportation Plan.

Currently, the University of Illinois at Chicago is also receiving support from CMAP for its multi-modal transportation plan, and the Wicker Park-Bucktown Special Service Area – on which I serve as a committee member – is working with CMAP to create a parking management innovation plan. Read more…

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To Grow Transit Ridership, Chicagoland Needs to Build Near Transit

MPC NE IL Task Force Presentation_FINAL

Blue dots are transit nodes, red are job centers. We need to make them match up. Image: MPC

Testifying before the Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force Friday, the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Peter Skosey argued that the region could significantly increase transit ridership by encouraging jobs and development near existing stations.

Governor Pat Quinn created the 15-member task force last summer in the wake of the controversial ouster of Metra CEO Alex Clifford. Clifford, who received a $871,000 severance, claimed he was forced out by Metra board members because he wouldn’t bow to political pressure on hiring and contract decisions. At the end of the month, the task force is expected to issue recommendations for creating to create a fiscally and ethically sound regional transit system. The public can provide input for the report here.

Speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting, Skosey said the MPC wants to provide backup for the task force as it pushes for transit reform. “We aren’t the only ones holding our breath and waiting for this important report to come out,” he said. “We want to embolden you guys to be as bold as you can be in your recommendations.”

After noting that reducing corruption and inefficiency in public transportation governance is key for making the regional transit system more viable and building public support for more transit investment, he launched into a discussion of how to increase ridership.

Read more…

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RTA Downplays Effect of Service Cuts and Fare Hikes on Stagnant Ridership

RTA-ridership-report-graphs-2008-2012_system

RTA ridership grew just 1.9 percent from 2008 to 2012, with the increase driven by CTA rail ridership. Image: RTA

In a new report [PDF], the Regional Transportation Authority blames weak ridership growth from 2008 to 2012 primarily on economic factors, glossing over the impact of fare hikes and service cuts.

During the period covered by the report, CTA ridership grew 3.7 percent, while Metra ridership and Pace ridership each shrank by 6.3 percent. With every CTA rail line experiencing growth, canceling out the commuter rail and bus declines, overall RTA ridership increased 1.9 percent. Still, CTA’s ridership growth lagged behind rapid transit systems in New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Philadelphia, but not DC, according to the American Public Transit Association [2008, 2012]. Metra’s ridership change, meanwhile, was worse than other big-city commuter rail systems except for Boston and the Long Island Rail Road, according to APTA.

While admitting that “the recession negatively impact[ed] transit operations” and “forced Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace to consider fare increases and service cuts,” the RTA report largely skirts the issue of how shrinking service and rising fares affected ridership, focusing mainly on other factors.

The service boards did more more than “consider” fare increases and service cuts. CTA and Pace raised fares in 2009, and Metra raised them three times, in 2008, 2010, and then again, significantly, in 2012. And in 2010, CTA and Pace cut service, including nine of CTA’s express bus routes. These fare increases and service cuts, combined with small job losses, contributed to a decrease in ridership across all three agencies in 2009 and 2010. The RTA report does point the finger at Metra’s 25 percent fare increase in 2012 and the state eliminating the Seniors Ride Free program in late 2011, as well as disruptions caused by the NATO summit in May 2012.

The report goes on to list several other reasons why Metra ridership decreased 1.7 percent in 2012 – like extreme summer heat, changes in the Chicago festival calendar, and Wacker Drive construction limiting access to West Loop terminals. But how much of an impact did these factors really have? Would Metra ridership have year-over-year growth, like CTA rail, if not for these reasons? Read more…