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Coverage roundup: Mass transit leaders unwilling to give up fiefdoms

Wednesday, Jul 10, 2024 - Posted by Isabel Miller

* Subscribers know more. ABC Chicago

There was major opposition to a plan to merge Metra, Pace and the CTA into one agency the first public hearing on the matter Tuesday.

Chicago area public transportation has had a bumpy ride over the last several years; while ridership is up on CTA, Metra and Pace, it still has not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, and when it comes to service there is no shortage of complaints.

Illinois lawmakers invited the heads of CTA, Metra, Pace and the Regional Transit Authority to a public hearing on the state of public transit. On the heels of a $730 million funding cliff and an effort to reform, there is now proposed legislation to combine all agencies into one big agency. […]

While the business community calls for reform, each transit agency and the RTA, which is the governing body that overseas CTA, Metra and Pace, are against the consolidation. They argue it will not make each organization better.


State Sen. Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago), chair of the state Senate’s transportation committee and one of the sponsors of the merger bill, said lawmakers likely have little appetite to provide additional money without making changes.

“There will be no votes for funding unless we address service, governance and the corresponding reforms that are needed” to create a top-tier transit system that is also “accountable and transparent,” Villivalam said. […]

Villivalam told the transit leaders that proposed governance reforms weren’t meant as a comment on their leadership.

“We need to explore every avenue of how the system is going to be one for the future,” Villivalam said. He told the agency heads that merger legislation may move forward “if there’s consensus,” or that things may remain status quo.

* Block Club

The executives said a chronic lack of funding — and not the way they function — is the real problem. Instead of a merger, the transit leaders hope the state can bankroll them out of an impending $730 million fiscal cliff in 2026.

“We’re victims of our own success. We operate the leanest system in the country,” said Derwinski, Metra’s chief executive. “I don’t know where the cuts would be … . I think it’s important that local representation has some voice with what happens in operations, and that could get minimized or lost in a grand board.”

The fiscal cliff nears as federal grant relief that floated the agencies through the pandemic runs out, while operating revenue has yet to recoup the difference as remote work cuts into ridership and reshapes travel patterns, the agency leaders said.

Kirk Dillard, chairman of the Regional Transportation Authority, estimated the fiscal cliff could “wipe out” 30-40 percent of current service levels across the three transit systems.

* Sun-Times

“The governance model is not the problem here. … The issue is getting the funding levels to where they’re supposed to be,” CTA President Dorval Carter said in the first of six public hearings to be held by the Illinois Senate Transportation Committee. […]

“I do not believe that combining us into one organization will make us better,” Pace CEO Melinda Metzger told the Senate committee. “First of all, we all have board members who are local, who understand the local needs, and they give us a lot of info. Secondly, we’re all in different service areas.” […]

Kirk Dillard, chair of the RTA board, said the oversight role of his agency has kept costs down.

“It’s very similar to an external auditor reviewing an internal auditor’s work,” Dillard said. “That’s another reason we have the lowest operating cost per mile. … [T]he RTA does help hold these folks accountable.”


Embattled CTA president Dorval Carter pointed to a lack of funding, rather than cooperation among the agencies, for the region’s transportation issues.

“I’ve heard all of this before. I’ve been through governance reforms. I’ve been through funding reforms. I’ve been through all of this, and what I know hasn’t been adequately addressed is the fact that the funding that’s been provided for public transit has never, ever aligned with the governance that was put in place,” he testified. “What I mean by that is that we’ve never had the level of funding to truly allow for a discretionary funding program that would be controlled by RTA, that would allow RTA to basically direct priorities.” […]

CTA bus driver Jason Nawls, a member of Amalgamated Transit Union Local #241, said he feared that jobs would be lost in a consolidation plan.

“All of you want the service, but none of you wants to pay for it,” he said. “Only by funding the system and recognizing the service that the CTA and its employees truly provide will the situation be resolved.”

* More…


  1. - RNUG - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 12:37 pm:

    I have a feeling the leaders if CTA, Metra and PACE have misread the train schedule and are about to get steamrolled.

  2. - James the Intolerant - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 12:39 pm:

    From Isabel’s morning briefing comments:
    Is anyone fact checking the transit talking heads? Metra receives 50% of their budget from taxes. Of course they don’t want to lose their bloated organizations. Metra salaries:
    CEO $325K, Dep Exec Dir Admin $297K, Dep Exec Dir Operations $277K, Dep Exec Dir External Affairs $272K. And countless bloated salaries under these positions.
    Plus, Metra pays a Project Management firm $30M/year to oversee their projects because with 23 employees earning more than $184K/year, no one can do that. Revamp/merge now.

  3. - Bus Rider - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 12:42 pm:

    Again, Can someone tell my why the senate transportation committee is excluding all of the other transit boards in the state in it’s hearings?

    Clearly, the committee is focused on Northern Illinois for a reason- maybe it is to give more power to Cook County?

    just saying

  4. - Just Me 2 - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 12:43 pm:

    === CTA bus driver Jason Nawls, a member of Amalgamated Transit Union Local #241, said he feared that jobs would be lost in a consolidation plan. ===

    Uh, yeah, that’s the point, dude. There are system redundancies and inefficiencies.

    We need an oversight board that is separate from the service providers with appointing authorities at the state level, not local.

  5. - ChicagoVinny - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 12:56 pm:

    I encourage those in favor of a combined system to read about the MBTA, which had become so neglected the Feds stepped in, investigated and demanded changes. I lived in Boston for six years, and can tell you that even post-pandemic the CTA and Metra are in better shape than the MBTA was. As bad as the CTA may be right now it can get worse.

  6. - Rahm's Parking Meter - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 1:01 pm:

    The arrogance shown yesterday knew no bounds. Reform or consolidate.
    I am tired of the bad service, failing equipment and arrongant “we know better than you” attitude all around the RTA, CTA, Metra and Pace.

  7. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 1:19 pm:

    ===As bad as the CTA may be right now it can get worse. ===

    That’s not a great case for maintaining the status quo. Model success, not failure.

  8. - May soon be required - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 1:22 pm:

    I feel like I’m the only one that is happy with public transportation. I take Metra every day and occasionally use the CTA. I have had very few issues and for the price it is well worth it.

    I don’t use often late night or weekends so that may skew my perspective.

  9. - a drop in - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 1:35 pm:

    “Secondly, we’re all in different service areas.”

    Yet I can walk east and take the CTA or Pace bus to the CTA train downtown. Or I can walk west and take the Metra downtown.

  10. - Suburban Mom - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 1:35 pm:

    I like Metra a lot. It’s convenient, safe, clean, and usually on time.

    I will say when I was riding Metra in my 20s, I got groped on crowded trains pretty regularly. Now that I’m middle-aged and fat, men leave me alone and public transit is a lot safer for me.

  11. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 1:44 pm:

    ===Yet I can===

    Not possible for many.

  12. - ChicagoBars - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 1:49 pm:

    Once more with feeling…thanks to Federal COVID aid to mass transit the CTA and other agencies ARE and have been fully funded since 2022 and on CTA at least service got MUCH worse.

    The entirety of the agency head testimony (and the IL Senate Q&A tbh) largely ignored that THEY GOT THE MONEY and blew it. No way do you fully fund that status quo out of City & State taxpayer coffers. No way.

  13. - Scooter - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 2:03 pm:

    “ I feel like I’m the only one that is happy with public transportation. I take Metra every day and occasionally use the CTA. I have had very few issues and for the price it is well worth it.”

    Some general cliff notes:

    CTA - unreliable service, perceived to be unsafe due to lack of law enforcement on trains/buses, high employee turnover due to hiring practices.

    Metra - Aside from two or three lines, service levels remain below pre-pandemic levels. Operating practices and rolling stock remain archaic. While Metra has stated that they recognize that the 9-5 commute is no longer a viable pattern to design their service off of, they have still generally failed to adjust to the new reality - on most lines, off-peak and weekend service remains insufficient or non-existent.

    Pace - Has had hiring challenges at least equal to, if not worse that CTA’s, albeit at a smaller scale. Pace has historically never aggressively pursued new ridership via local (non-express) bus routes, and the pandemic provided them an opportunity to eliminate many local routes in their entirety, and cut service (I.e., a bus ever hour instead of every 30 minutes). Pace’s paratransit arm also remains operated almost exclusively by a mish-mash of private contractors, whose profitability goals (resulting in understaffing, etc) keep paratransit riders from ever really getting decent service.

  14. - Tony T. - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 2:11 pm:

    I’m with @ a drop in.

    “Different service areas” is a poor excuse. I’m a four block walk from joint CTA and PACE bus stops and three blocks from a Metra station.

    There’s a ton of cross jurisdictional coverage. CTA rapid transit trains serve suburbs like Wilmette, Skokie and Forest Park, but not a single neighborhood in the city limits south of 95th Street. Meanwhile, Metra is predominately suburban based, but it still has dozens of stations within the city limits — including many South Side neighborhoods that CTA trains don’t reach.

    Rich pointed out this morning (subscribers know more) that the CTA refused to co-ordinate with Metra on a plan that cut commuter costs in half for South Siders because they were afraid it would mean fewer bus fares for them.

    Governance is absolutely part of the problem.

  15. - Suburban Rider - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 2:22 pm:

    The majority of the commentary here is talking about issues with the CTA - If you listened to the hearing yesterday CTA is projected to have a budget shortfall of close to $500M in 2026 and is currently carrying $5 Billion in debt with pensions funded at less than 60%. Metra and PACE do not have the same service or financial problems as CTA. The current proposals in legislative form leans towards Chicago, followed by Cook County as having a dipropionate amount of board control due to the elimination of having a super majority vote needed compared to the proposed simple majority vote. If you are in the suburbs, consolidation right now looks like you weaken your financial stability, give up representation, bail out CTA, and possibly put Mayor Johnson in charge of suburban public transportation. - No Thank You!!

  16. - ChicagoBars - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 3:25 pm:

    Suburban Rider…you gotta’ read the bill. As they say.

  17. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 3:31 pm:

    ===possibly put Mayor Johnson in charge of suburban public transportation===

    Not gonna happen.

  18. - Suburban Rider - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 3:35 pm:

    Chicago Bars -

    I did. SB3936 is the one I looked at. I did not even bring up the increase is Retailers Occupation Tax from .25% to .75% or that an additional $150M is transferred from the Road Fund instead of GRF

  19. - Google Is Your Friend - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 3:58 pm:

    - Suburban Rider - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 3:35 pm:

    You clearly didn’t read for comprehension. Try again tomorrow.

  20. - just saying - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 5:25 pm:

    the proposed language gives 5 appointments to Mayor Johnson and 5 appointments to Preckwinkle- out of 18

    so-YES-Johnson will control suburban transit as his key staff all worked for Preckwinkle

  21. - Biker - Wednesday, Jul 10, 24 @ 6:49 pm:

    It’s as simple as capital planning and fare systems that works together instead of competing. The fact is we don’t get the recently approved 6 month pilot combined transit day pass without this threat on the table. Combine ‘em and make it as much a utility as water or electric.

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