Tuesday, January 9, 2007

RTA Directorships: Is There An Objective Formula For Distribution?

As shown in a previous post, the 12 directors of the RTA board are allocated among the City of Chicago, suburban Cook County, and the collar counties (Lake, McHenry, DuPage, Kane and Will) according to population. Two other ways of allocating directorships come to mind, namely, formulas based on each region's financial contributions to the operation of the regional transit system or relative intensity of transit use in each region. Both these approaches would result in a major change in the distribution of RTA directorships among the three regions.

Intensity of Transit Use Formula

The House Committee's Initial Report on the 1983 Transit Formula (available here) did an analysis of transit use by region using morning boardings. (Pg. 13 of 18) It found the following distribution:

City of Chicago--67.6%
Suburban Cook County--25.2%
Collar Counties--7.2%

If a.m. ridership were the standard for allocating RTA directorships, the 12 RTA board slots would be allocated as follows:

City of Chicago--8 directors
Suburban Cook County--3 directors
Collar Counties--1 director

The Initial Report also broke down passenger miles by region:

City of Chicago--42.0%
Suburban Cook County--33.2%
Collar Counties--24.7%

If passenger miles were the standard for allocating RTA directorships the 12 RTA board slots would be allocated as follows:

City of Chicago--5 directors
Suburban Cook County--4 directors
Collar Counties--3 directors

Financial Contribution Formula

Cook County residents pay a 1 percent RTA sales tax while collar county residents pay at a 0.25% rate. According to the the RTA's 2007 Proposed Budget Book (pg. 45 of 50) the sales tax contributions from the regions are as follows:

City of Chicago--31%
Suburban Cook County--53%
Collar Counties--16%

If RTA sales tax receipts were the standard for allocating RTA directorships, the 12 RTA board slots would be allocated as follows:

City of Chicago--4
Suburban Cook County--6
Collar Counties--2

There are other possible ways for allocating RTA directorships in an "objective" fashion. One way would be to allocate the slots based on existing or projected transit capital investment by region. This would use capital investment as a surrogate for where the system is likely to grow in the future. Using capital investment as the basis for the formula would favor suburban representation because of Metra's disproportionate share of capital investment (based on ridership share) and its focus on suburban expansion projects.

Another allocation formula would be transit trips per capita. This would reward areas that have adopted land-use policies and taken other steps that have resulted in higher levels of transit use. The City of Chicago and to a lesser extent suburban Cook County would fare especially under this approach.

This all begs the question whether RTA board directorships should be allocated based on some purportedly objective formula such as population. Another question is whether dividing up the board into three regions perpetuates the kind of destructive City vs. suburban, Cook County vs. collar counties competition and enmity that defeats the purpose of a "regional" transportation authority. These and other issues will be addressed in upcoming posts.

What is clear, however, is that the current population-based allocation of RTA directorships is tilted heavily in favor of suburban representation. We will have to rely on someone other than the RTA and the Moving Beyond Congestion proponents to address these issues.

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