After lobbying by CTA and Pace, RTA board shifts some COVID funding from Metra

The Davis Street Metra and CTA stations in Evanston. Photo: Jeff Zoline
The Davis Street Metra and CTA stations in Evanston. Photo: Jeff Zoline

Read more background on this issue here.

The Regional Transportation Authority was previously planning to divvy up federal American Rescue Plan Act COVID-19 stimulus funds to the three major Chicagoland transit agencies based on pre-pandemic fare estimates for 2022. Under the proposed allocation that went before the RTA board last Wednesday, the CTA would have gotten $891.4 million, or 60 percent of all ARP funding; Metra would have received $543.6 million, or 36 percent of the funding; and Pace would have gotten $62 million, or 4 percent of the funding.

During that hearing, Pace executive director Rocky Donahue strongly complained about the split, arguing that it would hurt his agency’s ability to improve services, while also protesting that RTA was penalizing Pace for making service cuts to save money. In addition, CTA chief Dorval Carter argued that Metra got too much funding, urging RTA to split $40 million of the Metra funding between the CTA and Pace. 

At Friday’s follow-up board meeting, the RTA directors responded to these grievances by approving an allocation that shifted a bit of the ARP funding away from Metra and toward CTA and Pace. (Allocations to Indiana and Wisconsin transit systems that are also under RTA oversight were unaffected.)

Under the new agreement, the CTA will get $912.1 million (61 percent of the funds), while Metra will get $513.6 million (34 percent) and Pace will get $71.3 million (5 percent). The agreement also includes the language specifying that if CTA gets the cash and doesn’t spend all of it by the end of 2027, and Metra and Pace spend all of their ARP funds by that point, whatever ARP funds CTA has left over would be split between Metra and Pace.

The new funding split.
The new funding split.

The deal also includes language giving the RTA board the authority to reconsider the allocation during its 2023 budget planning process. “The board shall consider any substantial change in financial circumstance which may occur from this date through the third quarter of 2022, as well the totality of the region’s financial condition at that time,” the agreement states.

The new allocations were developed by an ad-hoc committee made up of directors Pat Carey, who represents Lake County; Bill Coulson, who represents north suburban Cook County; and Christopher Melvin, who represents Chicago, in consultation with the three service boards. Carey said that director Alexandra Holt, who also represents Chicago, came up with an allocation “that was acceptable to all service boards. After much back and forth, we’ve gotten to where we wanted to make Pace whole and get them to the amount of money that would cover their projected expenses.” 

Carey added that Metra and Pace boards were OK with the new allocation, and while the CTA was less happy with it, the agency ultimately accepted it. Streetsblog Chicago asked the CTA for more details on its position on the deal, but the transit agency didn’t get back to us by deadline.

Melvin said Carter deserves credit for pushing the board to make what Melvin feels is a better allocation. “We talk about equity and inclusion, but that was missing in that original proposal. It’s only there [now] because [Carter] made it happen.”

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