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Propeller heads?

Thursday, Apr 3, 2014

* Tribune

Mayor Rahm Emanuel [yesterday] dismissed a state task force report that called for one mega mass transit agency combining the CTA, Metra and PACE as written by “propeller heads.”

The characterization came today when the mayor was asked if the single transit agency is a good idea.

“No, and in capital letters. Let me just be really clear: This is what happens when you lock up a lot of propeller heads in a room for a short period of time. First they say we have an unaccountable, nameless, faceless bureaucracy. Hold on, we’d like to replace it with the new version of a unaccountable, nameless, faceless bureaucracy,” Emanuel said after today’s City Council meeting.

“I’ve had my views on the importance of being a propeller head. I think I’ve given you my views of that. It is a non starter with this,” the mayor added.

* But the Tribune editorial board was quite impressed with the recommendations this week

•There’s no strategic plan to expand the transit system or increase ridership. The CTA, Metra and Pace aren’t working together to make buses and trains more accessible and convenient. The “legacy system” is still Loop-centric, while other employment corridors are woefully underserved. Only 12 percent of suburbanites can get to work on mass transit in less than 90 minutes.

•Capital spending is all about catch-up. There’s a $20 billion backlog just to bring the system into a “state of good repair,” according to the Regional Transportation Authority, which is supposed to provide oversight for the three transit agencies but — here’s another task force finding — doesn’t. Transit spending is based on returning revenue to where it was raised, not on building a system that serves the region.

•Much of this can be blamed on an entrenched “culture of division.” The system is governed by four boards, with 47 members appointed by 21 elected officials. Instead of thinking regionally, board members defend the parochial agendas of the politicians who appoint them.

The task force recommends transitioning to a single oversight board — but not the RTA. A 2008 transit reform bill, passed mostly to address the CTA’s chronic budget emergencies, was intended to give the RTA the teeth to force the transit boards to work together, the report notes. The RTA was supposed to develop a strategic plan and to set and enforce performance standards. That didn’t happen. “The agency’s lackluster response to the new authority given to it in 2008 does not inspire confidence,” the task force report says. It also criticizes the RTA for employing Madigan’s son-in-law as its chief of staff.

Members of the new board would be appointed by local governments and the state. Candidates would be vetted by an independent panel to guard against cronyism and conflicts of interest. They wouldn’t be salaried — until recently, they qualified for state pensions — and they could be removed more easily if, for example, they signed off on another hush-money severance deal.


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - John A Logan - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 9:59 am:

    Never heard that expression before.

  2. - RonOglesby - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:00 am:

    Not sure why he would oppose it… I meant they don’t work together, they dont make the systems function for today. But of course simplifying mgmt and reducing redundancy means less cronies in charge of different agencies.

    I wish those in charge of gov $ and those that like to spend it on more gov programs would try to work on existing systems, consolidate and make them better before adding any more.

  3. - PublicServant - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:05 am:

    I pretty sure Rahm is concerned about Chicago dollars, which currently are sent to prop up other areas of the state, not occur with these transportation dollars, since the dollars that Chicago currently sends to those other parts of the state are far from appreciated by a lot of the current recipients.

  4. - jim - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:11 am:

    that’s about as clear an embrace of the corrupt status quo as I’ve seen. the report laid out in detail the extent of the political hiring arranged by people like Madigan etc.

  5. - GA Watcher - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:13 am:

    Right or wrong, Mayor Emanuel is protecting Chicago’s investment in the assets of the CTA. He’s not just going to turn over the buses, trains, stations, track and other infrastructure without the City being compensated.

  6. - Rahm's Middle Finger - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:14 am:

    One of those “propeller heads” is Carole Brown. Carole Brown, you may remember, is a former Chairman of the Board of the CTA. But more importantly, was appointed by guess who to Chair their TIF Reform Panel. Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

    Were her recommendations more valid when he appointed Carole himself? Now that she disagrees with him she’s a propeller head?

    People may think that the Governor is a bad leader. But he actually has accomplishments to point to. What has Rahm done?

    His primary mistake is that he mistakes activity with progress. He’s always active, but what is being accomplished?

  7. - Jimbo - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:15 am:

    So I looked it up and a “propeller head” is a term for technical nerdy types. It refers to those beanies that had propellers on top.

  8. - Jimbo - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:16 am:

    Learn something new every day.

  9. - Walker - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:19 am:

    The current structure favors a Chicago-centric view. The fault lines are along the city/suburban boundaries.

    Rahnm distrusts any effort to take a truly regional perspective on almost anything.

  10. - RJ - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:20 am:

    I would bet that realistic research would prove that statewide tax dollars flow INTO Chicago rather than out. Some years ago I read an article about the CTA was allowed to “borrow” funds from the SERS pension funds. 1.5 BILLION seems to stick in my mind….it was a long time ago. It would be interesting to learn how many times this sort of thing has happened….and if any of the billions were paid back. Doubtful

  11. - wordslinger - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:21 am:

    From what I can find on the google, “propeller head” is a derogatory term for smart people, like nerds.

    Of course, only a bunch of nerds would think that the current FUBAR of CTA, Pace and Metra is the way to go.

    When I go to work from Oak Park out to Deerfield, I need a CTA card for the Blue line, a Metra card for the train, and a Pace card for the shuttle to corporate hq. Corporate has to issue the card for the shuttle, because you can’t buy them anywhere else.

    Yeah, that’s efficient.

    Can anyone explain what Emanuel is all about? What’s his point? Why is he there? What does he want to accomplish when he gets up in the morning other than gaze admiringly at himself in the mirror?

    If you like Rahm, you’re going to love Bruce. They’re the same guy.

  12. - cover - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:23 am:

    Rahm’s lingo seems to be stuck in the ’60s, although I actually understood what he meant. Maybe that’s a sign of my age…

  13. - Downstater - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:23 am:

    The Rahm-inator seems to be losing control. What tin foil hat has he been wearing?
    Of course, it would be a great idea to have the transportation agencies operating under on mass transit agency. More efficiency and probably some cost savings.

  14. - Dozed - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:24 am:

    Not sure why the Mayor is so dismissive of the idea. Agency and work consolidation was a hallmark of his and Cook County Borad pres. Preckwinkle first year in office. Calling people names and dismissing ideas out of hand w/o vetting is what the old mayor did.

  15. - Jimbo - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:25 am:

    RJ, borrowing money isn’t the same as taking it. The pension funds invest their money for reasonable returns. That does not equate to downstate tax dollars “flowing in” to Chicago. That deal in the end would result in dollars flowing out of Chicago.

    All of the downstate prisons and parks aren’t funded with local tax dollars man. It sucks to be a mooch, but no matter how much downstate wishes it were not so, Chicago tax dollars support their state services.

  16. - Anonymous - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:27 am:

    RJ. You’re wrong. The research was done a whle ago. It flows the other way. So no one has asked again.

  17. - RJ - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:33 am:

    I would like to read that research….does it exist…any links?

  18. - Chi - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:36 am:

    “Only 12 percent of suburbanites can get to work on mass transit in less than 90 minutes.”

    It’s silly to think this has anything to do with the structure of the boards. Create any board you want and you’ll still need to put more money (taxes!) towards building the infrastructure. And even then only so much can be done to remove the effects of sprawl.

  19. - wordslinger - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:37 am:

    –I would bet that realistic research would prove that statewide tax dollars flow INTO Chicago rather than out–

    You can’t really believe that.

  20. - Just Me - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:41 am:

    The reason all those agencies fight so hard with each other for every dollar is because Illinois doesn’t invest in transit like New York, California, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania does, yet the demand is the same. If there would be more funding, there would fewer arguments.

    Also, if you want qualified board members, who don’t have conflicts of interest in their duties, you have to compensate them.

  21. - Tom - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:43 am:

    The research was linked to on this site awhile back, and if I remember was from 2008-2009, but I could be wrong. The point was that in total dollars Chicago was revenue neutral, with the collar counties having money flow out and the rest of the state having money flow in.

  22. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:53 am:

    ===I would like to read that research….does it exist…any links? ===

    How about using the Google, or a site search here, rather than clog up the comment section with your red herring?

    This is old news, man. Either catch up or stay outta comments.’s-way.html

  23. - Soccermom - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:53 am:

    I was in New York City for Thanksgiving a couple years ago. We were in Grand Central Station on Thanksgiving morning, and it was packed with people taking trains. I’m guessing that it’s a lot quieter here on holidays.

    I understand that the East Coast is more densely populated, which makes train travel more practical. But still — our service is way behind other major cities.

  24. - Illinois taxpayer - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 10:59 am:

    Rahm’s Middle Finger–Carole Brown dissented from the report’s recommendation.

    R.J.–The CTA didn’t borrow from a pension fund. The General Assembly in 2008 ordered the CTA to issue a $1.7 bond and put the proceeds into its under-funded pension plan.

  25. - dupage dan - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 11:07 am:

    If Illinois can figure out how to link the IPass system to others in other states (I know, it wasn’t without teething issues), then Illinois should be able to do that with mass transit in NE Illinois.

    Emanuel is only protecting his turf. Another example of the transformational/transparent gov’t brought on in 2008.

  26. - GA Watcher - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 11:14 am:

    Taxpayer - The final transit report was approved unanimously by the task force. Carole Brown did not dissent.

  27. - The End Is Near - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 11:28 am:

    @wordslinger: “If you like Rahm, you’re going to love Bruce. They’re the same guy.”


  28. - OldSmoky2 - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 11:39 am:

    Rahm has complete control over the CTA. These recommendations would make him share that control. Rahm doesn’t like to share control. People who try to make him share control get called names. I’m guessing the first time he said it, in the privacy of his office, “propeller head” was preceded by some other adjectives Rahm has been known to use.

  29. - Rahm's Middle Finger - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 11:43 am:

    Well, my bad on Carole.

    However, I stand by the rest of my comments.

  30. - LincolnLounger - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 11:47 am:

    The “propellor heads” comment and quick dismissal made me think Rich Daley was still Mayor.

  31. - The Doc - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 11:58 am:

    ==It’s silly to think this has anything to do with the structure of the boards.==

    It’s silly to believe otherwise, at least if you consider the report’s findings.

    A theme repeated throughout is that there’s little coordination between the units, and that the current structure incentivizes each agency to grab as much cash as possible for their individual needs, without considering if it benefits the region.

  32. - DG Dad - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 12:12 pm:

    I am not saying that there is no need for change at the top of the RTA, but the three service boards address very different facilities and needs. PACE has ridership issues since no one in the burbs wants to be seen on a bus (Marketing). CTA has service issues (Planning). Metra needs parking lots to generate more riders, but also has service/infrastructure issues (Engineering). But the infrastructure of diesel electric locomotives is very different than third rail electric. Metra is a Railroad, CTA and PACE are Transit Agencies. The differences go on and on. The Mayor is right, but I’m sure for the wrong reasons. Each of these services needs a Board of their own to address their own unique issues. Cooperate? Sure. Communicate? Of course. Combine? Nope.

  33. - crazybleedingheart - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 12:15 pm:

    Word, wordslinger.

    Reason #6581003885 Rahm’s to the far right of even the bluest dog: hatin’ on the smarty-pantses.

    He’s already got the TV show. He’ll go full Palin any minute.

  34. - Norseman - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 12:17 pm:


    We’re living in an age where information is easily obtained on most peoples’ phones. Do you really expect people to use it?

  35. - Six Degrees of Separation - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 12:59 pm:

    Chicagoland is actually a fairly transit-rich area. No metropolitan area,save for NYC, haas as many radial rail commuter lines. CTA’s system of trains and buses is fairly robust, with a few extensions rail could cover most of the city within a 2 mile service footprint. As Word succinctly stated, the problem is that destinations that are not Downtown or to the 2 airports are difficult to serve, because of the structure of how everything was developed over the last 100 years. Sprawl? Yes, but at one time Westchester(for example) was sprawl, now it’s an old inner suburb, and unless you’re going to O’Hare or the loop, most trips from there are more efficient by driving and fighting traffic.

  36. - downstate commissioner - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 1:10 pm:

    DG Dad sounds like me talking about the consolidation of townships and other small districts. It is the same issues all over again-there are good reasons for separate boards, because one size doesn’t fit all….

  37. - FP_J - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 1:40 pm:

    “Metra is a Railroad, CTA and PACE are Transit Agencies.” -DG Dad

    The fact that Metra thinks of itself as a railroad is part of the problem. The spatial distribution of the region’s population and job centers has changed dramatically since WWII, but Metra prides itself on running some trains on the same clock-face schedule as they did before the war. ???

    NE Illinois is a single economic region; we need to run our transit in a way that reflects that. What we should really be aiming for is a division of Metra and CTA that follows the S-Bahn / U-Bahn division they have in many German and Austrian cities. This means changing Metra’s exclusive focus on traditional, on-peak commutes to and from the Loop.

    That being said, we should learn another lesson from the Germans: organization before electronics before concrete. In other words, multi-billion construction projects come only after we’ve improved capacity/operations with signaling and control technology — and that only comes after we fix the organization and cultures of the agencies!

  38. - In 630 - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 2:06 pm:

    I don’t get how a railroad differs from a transit agency re: Metra, DG. Their reason for being is to get people places. If they haven’t seen themselves that way that would explain a lot of their customer service issues.

    Rahm isn’t alone, he just happens to be the face of it. I’m sure the other pols with appointing authority are resistant to having their power diminished. And Metra seems to be making a show of “reforming” itself.

    But NYC seems to have a fine system all under one agency.

  39. - Keyser Soze - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 2:21 pm:

    Been using that term for years. I think that Rahm stole it.

  40. - West Side the Best Side - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 3:10 pm:

    Since Rahm’s calling people names, the first ting I think of everytime I see his face is “smarmy.” Can’t wait to see tonight’s Chicagoland. It was really going full tilt for the canonization of St. Rahm last week. And on the topic of the post, just about any plan to cut down the numbers of government agencies, districts or political bodies in Illinois deserves serious discussion, not name-calling. (I was going to use “petulant childish name-calling”, but that would have been childish.)

  41. - K - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 5:22 pm:

    Seems like a lot of people here like to throw stones without actually doing the research.

    They used the term “propeller heads” in the White House during the Clinton years.

  42. - Norseman - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 7:39 pm:

    === They used the term “propeller heads” in the White House during the Clinton years. ===

    I don’t care who used the phrase. I prefer that elective officials act with more dignity, decorum and respect. That seems to be a problem with all too many nowadays.

  43. - danray - Thursday, Apr 3, 14 @ 7:48 pm:

    Love helicopters

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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