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State legislators pushing to merge CTA, Pace, and Metra into one agency spoke at Transit Town Hall

State Sen. Ram Villivalam, (D-8th) and state Rep. Eva-Dina Delgado (D-3rd), as well as Graciela Guzmán, a Democratic senate nominee, addressed the crowd of transit advocates.

Villivalam, Guzmán, and Delgado. Photo: Cameron Bolton

this post is sponsored by the Active Transportation Alliance.

Last month, the Active Transportation Alliance organized the Transit is Essential Town Hall at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in the Douglas community area on the Near South Side. Last Saturday, April 27, another Public Transportation Town Hall was held at the Logan Square Public Library, 3030 W. Fullerton Avenue on the Near Northwest Side.

It was hosted by The People's Lobby, a membership-driven organization working to build support for addressing equity and environmental justice issues. According to the group's website, the organization seeks to "build widespread support for public policies and candidates – including people from our communities – that put racial and gender justice and the needs of people and the planet before the interests of big corporations and the very rich." The organization’s methods include training leaders to build bases of backers in local communities, organizing support for progressive legislation, endorsing candidates, and lobbying elected officials.

Detail from the flier for the event.

The event covered CTA issues like inadequate service, especially in Black and Brown neighborhoods; equipment breakdowns; delays; and limited transit options. It also looked at the transit agency's looming fiscal cliff, as federal COVID-19 funding, which has kept the transit agency going in the face of lower ridership since the pandemic hit, is predicted to run out next year.

One of the speakers at the event was state Sen. Ram Villivalam, (D-8th), chair of the Senate's Transportation Committee. Along with state Rep. Eva-Dina Delgado, (D-3rd), who also gave remarks, he recently introduced state legislation that would merge the CTA, Pace, Metra into one transit agency, and provide an additional $1.5 billion in funding for transit. Also appearing was Graciela Guzmán, the Democratic nominee for senator of the 20th District

There was a large turnout for the event. Photo: Cameron Bolton

According to Villivalam's website, he has spent his career in politics focusing on progressive issues like fighting income inequality, improving educational opportunities across Chicago, and advancing the rights of women, LGBTQ people, and immigrants like his parents, who moved from India to the U.S. in the 1970s.

"What kind of world class public transit system we want," Villivalam asked town hall attendees. "Sometimes we don’t start with the right question, right? And that leads to the wrong answer. The way I answer it is, we need a public transit system that’s world class. First, starting with the service that we all deserve. The service that is equitable, accessible, affordable, provides livability, affordability, [with positive] environmental impact, economic impact. That’s for the riders that we had before the pandemic that haven’t come back, the riders that were there before the pandemic and are still there, and the riders that we never had, the people that never had the access that we're trying to get to."

Ram Villavalam. Photo: Cameron Bolton

He called for "having a governance system that isn't confusing, that is accountable, that ensures everybody's at the table, and that we're including local voices. That Pace, given the ADA services that they provide, has someone with disabilities on their board, who has that perspective. That's what we need in terms of local government."

"Finally, revenue for the funding," Vllivalam concluded. "That we make sure we are looking to all the sources of revenue because, let's be honest, we've been down this road several times... which is why we need to make sure that we're funding $1.5 billion for a world-class public transit system that's not on the backs of working class or middle class families."

Graciela Guzman. Photo: Cameron Bolton

Much like with Villivalam, Guzman says she has spent her political career trying to help marginalized people. She says she's done this primarily fighting for healthcare as a human right, but she's also put some thought into public transportation issues.

"Transportation was one of the big pillars of my run for State Senate,” she told the audience. "It’s one of those things that feels like a symptom of a broader lack of structural imagination. When Springfield and other forces say that we need to focus on car-centric policies... these honest conversations about transportation make the most sense. We can’t talk about a lot of the fixes that many folks in this room have in mind.”

Eva-Dina Delgado. Photo: Cameron Bolton

Villivalam's transit legislation cosponsor Eva-Dina Delgado, who lives in the area, also showed up to the event and said a few words, despite not being part of the planned schedule. "Mostly, I wanted to hear what everybody else was saying," she told Streetsblog afterwards. "One of the things that I love to do as an elected is not talk as much and spend more time hearing what folks are concerned about and the things that they're interested in."

The whole point of the town hall was to let the people’s voices be heard. Several attendees provided input on what they think needed to be done to improve Chicago transit. And audience members broke up into multiple groups to discuss the issues ask questions.

Transit questions at the event. Photo: Cameron Bolton

"It was an event where we were really able to express and dream about the future of transit in the region, and I appreciated that it was organized in a way that community members were able to talk and engage with each other, versus just having a seminar type presentation," said attendee Jocelyn Wilcox.

Check out the People's Lobby's calendar of upcoming events here.

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