Wednesday, February 28, 2007

House Mass Transit Committee: Questions for the Service Boards

Representatives from the service boards (CTA, Metra and Pace) are being served up to the Illinois House Mass Transit Committee this Friday. The subject of the hearing is "service standards and reporting by the transit agencies," which seems a somewhat limited topic given the funding and other challenges that face the service boards. Here are some questions the Committee might want to ask them along the way:

-- The current operating funding challenge facing the RTA and the service boards is often characterized as a funding crisis. But with equal justification the situation can be viewed as a crisis of overproduction, with the service boards providing more transit service than can be supported by the operating funding stream established by the General Assembly in 1983, namely, the RTA sales tax and accompanying State match. If your service board had to match its level of service to the currently available operating funding stream, what would your system look like?

-- Labor costs account for most of your operating costs. What legislative measures would help you to increase labor productivity and keep labor cost increases to a minimum?

-- Other than paratransit service and Metra service on some rail lines, the service boards do not engage in significant subcontracting of their transit operations. Do you face any obstacles to subcontracting and, if so, what legislative measures would help you to take advantage of subcontracting opportunities where subcontracting makes economic and operational sense?

-- All the service boards face significant uncovered operating deficits in 2007. The RTA is supposed to ensure that the service board budgets are balanced, but apparently it has failed in its financial oversight function. What recommendations do you have for improving the RTA's financial oversight function?

-- The Chairman of this Committee has recently introduced a bill that vests the RTA with expanded powers. Do you support this bill? Please explain.

-- The RTA Act designates the RTA as the primary public body in the region to obtain federal and state funding for the region's public transit system. Isn't it true, however, that each service board has taken the lead in applying for such grants? Do you believe that it would be more efficient for the RTA to take the lead in obtaining capital funds for transit? Please explain.

-- The Final Report of the RTA's Moving Beyond Congestion planning effort lists many ways to raise money for operating funds, but makes no recommendations. How do you recommend that the General Assembly close the operating funding gap?

-- Do you believe that the RTA's sale tax rate differential should be changed? Please explain why and how.

-- Do you believe that the statutory formula for distributing the RTA sales tax revenue should change? Please explain why and how.

-- The Final Report recommends that over 80 percent of the capital funds devoted to enhancing and expanding the region's public transit system be spent on Metra and Pace projects. Do you agree that this is an appropriate allocation of capital?

-- What do you believe is the most cost-effective way of increasing transit ridership in the region?

-- Recently, paratransit service responsibilities were consolidated in Pace. Are there other reconfigurations of service responsibilities that would be cost-effective and improve service?

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