Metra Headaches Continue While Quinn Forms Committee to Reform Transit

Governor Pat Quinn delivers remarks highlighting the installation of automated external defibrillator (AED) devices on Metra rail cars.
Governor Quinn, center, and now-resigned board chairman Brad O'Hallaoran (gold tie) at Metra's Millennium Station in December. Photo: Quinn's office.

A fifth Metra board member gave up his post Thursday after the Chicago Tribune wrote that Stanley Rakestraw no longer lived in suburban Cook County  – as required – and the person who appointed him, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, asked him to tender resignation. Board members are resigning after allegations of double dipping (for being on two governmental boards simultaneously), patronage hiring and promoting, and for giving former Metra CEO Alex Clifford a severance package potentially worth over $700,000 in exchange for keeping quiet. The full amount would be available to Clifford if he fails to find a new job.

Meanwhile, Governor Pat Quinn today created the “Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force, an “independent panel of transit, finance and good government leaders who will issue recommendations to reform the mass transit system in northeastern Illinois”. The panel’s aim is to investigate fraud and waste and it seems the task force will spend more time investigating the Regional Transportation Authority, which has oversight of Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace – the three “service boards.”

Members of the “blue-ribbon” panel include Carole Brown, former chairperson of the Chicago Transit Authority board, Patrick Fitzgerald, former U.S. Attorney for this region, and Kathryn Tholin, CEO of Center for Neighborhood Technology. The task force will have co-chairs: George Ranney, CEO of Metropolis Strategies, who has proposed merging the Regional Transportation Authority into the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning; and Ann Schneider, secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation. Two union leaders, an advocate for people with disabilities, and a former CTA bus driver will join the panel.

RTA's CEO Joe Costello speaks at an event to promote transit. Photo: RTA.

Greg Hinz of Crain’s Chicago Business says the panel has a tough road ahead and doubts “how much it will actually achieve.” He writes:

For instance, Mr. Ranney, president and CEO of Metropolis Strategies, a civic group, and Ms. Brown long have been gunning to dismantle the Regional Transportation Authority, which arguably has been ineffective in regulating Metra, Pace and the CTA and which City Hall argues sucks up money that could go directly to CTA operations. Mr. Ranney has proposed merging RTA into the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

Hinz reports that Joe Costello, head of the RTA, “would like his agency empowered, rather than merged away.” DuPage County Chairman Dan Cronin, whose own appointee to the Metra board – Paul Darley – resigned last month, is concerned about Metra being affected by the “Chicago machine.”

Ventra press event
Metra will not be joining the Ventra ticketing system.

Transitized author Shaun Jacobsen wrote of his three “wish list” ideas on how to make the RTA more effective from a passenger perspective. The first, he said, should be “seamless ticketing.” He notes that this is required by law for all three service boards by 2015, yet only CTA and Pace have a solution. Jacobsen also posted that CTA president Forrest Claypool doesn’t want his agency to be included in RTA’s structural changes, “because unlike scandal-scarred Metra, the CTA is ‘accountable to the voters,’ who know ‘the buck stops’ with the mayor,” the Sun-Times reported.

The Chicago Tribune editorial board suggested today that everyone else should resign, without which “lofty paeans to restoring faith in Metra will mean nothing.” The editorial proposes a test for whatever reforms the panel outlines: “Would this oversight structure encourage the hiring of top administrators who will run safe, efficient transit operations…transit bosses who won’t play by the rules of Illinois politics?”

Chicagoland deserves a world-class transit system, but Metra drags down the region while CTA charges ahead. Will there be Illinois politics as usual, or can Quinn’s panel come up with reform ideas that the state legislature can act upon? I’m curious to see if the panel recommends that voters should elect the service board members and if this affects next year’s gubernatorial election.


Final State Task Force Report Dives Into Transit Reform Details

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 […]

To Grow Transit Ridership, Chicagoland Needs to Build Near Transit

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. […]

Preckwinkle, Environmental Groups Want CMAP to Drop Illiana

The Sierra Club and other organizations intend to petition the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning to remove the Illiana Tollway from its regional plan, effectively disallowing the state from building the new highway. The deletion is possible because CMAP, the federally-designated Metropolitan Planning Organization for this region, is finalizing a mandatory update of its GO […]

More State Control Over Chicagoland Transit Is a Bad Idea

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 […]

A Clearer, More Concise Regional Transit Proposal From Senator Biss

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 […]