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.