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Mass transit’s future

Monday, Mar 31, 2014

* Greg Hinz talks about a new report due out today from Gov. Pat Quinn’s transit study commission, which is headed, Greg says, “by one of the best big thinkers in the Chicago area: business and civic activist George Ranney”

Likely to get a cooler response is a proposal to merge the CTA, Metra and Pace into one agency with one governing board and three operating units, in the process dismantling the Regional Transportation Authority. Mr. Ranney is dead set on killing the RTA, which he helped create three decades ago.

The agency never was given the power needed to do its job of supervising the CTA, Metra and Pace. Given that failure, the next-best alternative probably is setting up a mega-agency that would run the operating units, much like the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Doing so has some clear advantages. CTA, Metra and Pace each have their own planning departments, IT units, personnel departments and the like. Consolidating them could save $30 million to $50 million a year, according to people familiar with the Ranney report. That would buy a lot of buses and maybe a train or three.

There are two other financial advantages. Instead of crawling all over each other in Washington in a hunt for federal capital, disputes over priorities would have to be resolved locally. And if the agency actually did some smart stuff—shifting resources to priority areas, unrolling an expansion plan that makes sense, etc.—it would help open the door to what Chicago-area transit really needs: more money.

To quote one item in the preliminary version of the Ranney report, the Chicago region spent half as much per capita in the past decade on transit capital projects as peer cities Boston, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington: $1,039 per person here versus an average of $2,039. All those metropolitan areas have strong unified or regional governance.

* And Bill Cameron at WLS Radio quotes Ranney

“The problem is not just transit, it’s the entire transportation system in this region has come to something of a standstill and people are spending a whole lot of time tied up in traffic,” Ranney, Jr. said. “The cost of an average commuter is $1500 a year just from the delays involved. So what really needs to happen here is you need an alternative, a relief value for all that auto traffic. And the best way to do it, the most effective and cheap way to do it is getting transit into better shape and encouraging people to use it. That’s the answer.”

And the answer may include raising the RTA sales tax.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

17 Comments
  1. - Chavez-respecting Obamist - Monday, Mar 31, 14 @ 11:13 am:

    It’s way past time to think about transit regionally, not Chicago vs the suburbs.


  2. - From the 'Dale to HP - Monday, Mar 31, 14 @ 11:14 am:

    That’s a lot of jobs he wants to get rid of. And would the mayor still have control over the CTA? And I’ve yet to see any support from the ‘burbs to help the CTA.


  3. - wordslinger - Monday, Mar 31, 14 @ 11:15 am:

    Congress isn’t any help in encouraging mass transit.

    The tax credit for train and bus commuters just got cut in half, while the tax credit for parking in a downtown garage just went up.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/tax-benefits-for-mass-transit-commuters-set-to-drop/2013/12/26/77e1d348-6e5a-11e3-aecc-85cb037b7236_story.html


  4. - plutocrat03 - Monday, Mar 31, 14 @ 11:23 am:

    Again, the problem is that they are not spending enough? The transit agencies collect taxes from 6 counties, many have areas that are not served at all despite their contribution.

    Start by collecting at least 50% of the operating costs from the farebox.


  5. - phocion - Monday, Mar 31, 14 @ 11:25 am:

    Ranney’s problem isn’t that he’s pro-transit. It’s that he’s anti-road. Congestion isn’t created only because of lack of transit. It’s created because of lack of capacity that in some cases is due to outdated design. Take Circle Interchange, for instance. Governor Quinn is getting behind a major reconstruction that will have a huge impact on congestion relief while largely remaining in the existing footprint. Look further west on 290, where it goes from four lanes to three lanes and back to four lanes. That causes congestion. Yes, transit is important. But common sense design and improvement of our existing roads needs to happen now.


  6. - Dan Johnson - Monday, Mar 31, 14 @ 11:27 am:

    Yes the problem is we spend about half per capita what every other region spends and we get what we pay for. We already do collect 50% from the fare box. Unless we like traffic congestion, we need to buy better trains and buses.


  7. - Jimmy CrackCorn - Monday, Mar 31, 14 @ 11:53 am:

    Hallelujah Mr. Ranney.

    I don’t understand why car reliant people are opposed to additional transit funding. Every additional rider picked up is one less car in your way to work.

    Transit investment now is needed for the future trends. Consider:
    The number of young people(ages 16-24) with drivers licenses dipped below 70% for the first time since the 1960’s.
    In 2011 data Boomers (55-65) were 15 (!!!) times more likely to purchase a car.
    Study after study shows the new work force is urbanizing, and values walk score and amenities over property size. There are countless examples of corporations following this trend to retain/recruit talent and spur innovation.
    There are the eco arguments, but I think the biggest driver of these trends is the allure of unfettered use of your smartphone. Not that driving stops some idiots from using their phone constantly.


  8. - Amalia - Monday, Mar 31, 14 @ 11:59 am:

    + 1 on phocion’s comment.

    CTA is also against this new plan. nervous leaders want to retain big control and public platform.


  9. - Six Degrees of Separation - Monday, Mar 31, 14 @ 12:00 pm:

    The one successful agency in the area, hate to say it, is the Tollway. Without much of anything in the way of federal funding (which the RTA agencies and IDOT District 1 are awash in) they manage to operate and maintain a 300+ mile system and are in the middle of a huge renovation and capacity expansion program, funded by the current and future users of the system. I hate paying tolls as much as the next guy, but I think a sizeable number of commuters would pay an extra $5 a day if it shaved 30 minutes off their now-”free” commute on some of the area’s expressways. And it makes all the sense in the world to bring the rail and bus transit agencies under one fare system and planning system, unlike today’s toothless RTA.


  10. - Six Degrees of Separation - Monday, Mar 31, 14 @ 12:03 pm:

    Dan Johnson, Pace does not come anywhere close to 50% farebox recovery.


  11. - Pete - Monday, Mar 31, 14 @ 12:16 pm:

    Expect more mention of the word system.
    This is going to be the buzz in transportation for during the next legislation to replace MAP 21.


  12. - Jen - Monday, Mar 31, 14 @ 2:15 pm:

    Until Pace was created there was very little bus transportation in the suburbs (still stingy but down to every 45 minutes during rush hour) - I would want to see that the suburbs would receive equal status with Chicago


  13. - Darienite - Monday, Mar 31, 14 @ 4:46 pm:

    ==I would want to see that the suburbs would receive equal status with Chicago.== And that is why the RTA was a paper tiger. The burbs (Metra and Pace) did trust the CTA from taking a disportionate percentage of funds.


  14. - Fed up - Monday, Mar 31, 14 @ 5:28 pm:

    Jen, demographics and density, mean that is a pipe dream. It’s just not cost effective to increase service in the burbs.


  15. - wordslinger - Monday, Mar 31, 14 @ 5:40 pm:

    In case anyone’s wondering, roads don’t pay for themselves with gas taxes and user fees. That 50% farebox threshold is a little too high, considering the ancillary benefits.

    http://www.governing.com/topics/transportation-infrastructure/Do-Roads-Pay-Themselves.html


  16. - DuPage Dave - Monday, Mar 31, 14 @ 6:01 pm:

    As a long-time government worker I find these consolidation proposals laughable. It’s always the same logic, i.e., personnel, IT, planning is all duplicated so just combine them and watch the savings pile up!

    Of course it never works that way. Chances are that most (not all) of the existing workers are doing something useful, and you only save money when you lay off significant numbers of people. The IT contractors will continue to make big money no matter how things are re-organized.

    Anyone who remembers the creation of the state’s Department of Human Services in 1997 will have a chuckle out of this proposal.


  17. - DuPage - Monday, Mar 31, 14 @ 7:12 pm:

    At one time, all the gas taxes went into highway trust funds, and could ONLY be spent on roads. Then, money started being diverted to be spent on other things.
    At one time, license plate and title fees were used strictly for secretary of state expenses, the rest went into road funds. Then, money began to be diverted to other unrelated programs.
    At one time, RTA taxes were used strictly for the RTA. Then RTA money began to be diverted to other unrelated expenses.
    It is no wonder they are all short of money. Things should be put back the way it was originally, so the road money goes for roads, RTA money goes for mass transit, car title fees go to run the secretary of state office.
    These other programs should be reviewed, and funded by general funds IF they are found to be worthwhile.


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