Monday, December 4, 2006

Public Hearings--Some Questions to Ask

The public hearings for the Moving Beyond Congestion project begin tonight. It is safe to say that 90% or more of the attendees at each hearing will drive to the hearing, a certain delicious (but sad) irony (see previous post).

These public hearings will be well-choreagraphed. There will be an opening program designed to convince the audience of the crucial role of transit in the region and the need for more money--lot's more--to build a "world class" transit system.

Then, there will be a period for public comment. There will be plenty of complaints about poor service, strongly expressed desires for improved service with lower taxes, and the like. A wan free marketeer or two may extol the miracle of a free market solution and an earnest transit geek or two will propose Mag-Lev lines and bicycle paths. Representatives of the massive Moving Beyond Congestion movement will rise and speak eloquently in support of a world class transit system. Then it will be over and time for the MBC public relations folks to spin the assembled media.

It appears that the hearings will consider only "comments" from the public. Thus, there won't be a chance for members of the public to engage in a dialogue with the MBC officials. Too bad. Q & A is often very insightful, but sometimes confrontational, which is why public bodies stay away from Q & A exchanges in public for the most part. The stakes are especially high when the media is about.

Here's my quick list of questions that should be asked if they could:

1. What efforts will be made to cut costs and expand transit services in the region through (i) outsourcing by the service boards and (ii) the encouragement of private sector initiatives such as jitney services?

2. Why should we think that increased levels of capital investment and operating subsidies will reverse the continued decline in public transit's market share?

3. Why should we think that the current governance structure of the RTA and the service boards will yield a greater market share for transit in the next 25 years when that structure has presided over transit's growing marginalization the past 25 years?

4. Can the environmental benefits from public transit be achieved more cheaply by regulatory initiatives that encourage a shift to fuel efficient/low emissions vehicles or roadway pricing strategies that do the same?

5. If public transit's primary function is now to reduce congestion on the area's roadways, then how is the MBC plan targeted at clearing up well-known congestion bottlenecks, most of which are in or at the entrances to the City of Chicago?

6. What steps will the RTA take to reduce labor costs and achieve other efficiencies at the service boards?

7. Why does the State of Illinois have no appointment power to the boards of the RTA, Metra and Pace even though the State contributes hundreds of million of dollars to the system each year?

8. Are there congestion relief mechanisms such as the London congestion pricing program that could be just as effective in reducing congestion as putting more trains/buses on the system and yet be cost neutral or even revenue positive for the region?

9. If the City is generating a smaller share of the RTA's sales tax revenue than it did 25 years ago, should its RTA sales tax rate be increased?

10. Given Pace's failure to grow ridership significantly despite major gains in population and employment in its service area over the years, should Pace be reconstituted as a feeder system to Metra and leave it at that?

11. If the region is unwilling to embrace transit friendly land-use policies then shouldn't we view this as a signal that at most the public transit status quo should be maintained?

No comments: