Thursday, February 15, 2007

Is The Moving Beyond Congestion Coalition Beginning to Unravel?

The Northwest Herald followed up on its recent article quoting the revanchist sentiments of the McHenry County public officials, who seem to want to pull out of the RTA, with a blistering editorial entitled "No Bailout for the CTA."

The editorial argues that "residents of McHenry County already pay far more into the system than they get back in services." It goes on to state that these residents " would be shortchanged in almost every one of the funding options being floated to rescue the RTA."

It is interesting that the editorialist seems to think that he/she is taking a jab at the CTA by observing that "half of the RTA's $226 million deficient belongs to the Chicago Transit Authority." Since the CTA provides 80% of the transit trips in the region, the fact that the CTA accounts for only half of the RTA's deficit could be considered a sign of profligacy by the suburban service boards, Pace and Metra.

Indeed, according to the RTA's 2007 budget, Pace's uncovered deficit in 2007 is $22,876 for its mainline (i.e., non-ADA) service while the CTA's uncovered deficit is $110,000. On an uncovered deficit per passenger trip basis (using 2005 ridership numbers) Pace performs much worse than the CTA:

Uncovered deficit (2007) per passenger trip

Metra: 13.7 cents
CTA: 23.8 cents
Pace: 61.9 cents

The editorial points to the upcoming performance audit by Auditor General Holland and urges: "Let's see where the money is being mismanaged--and correct that--before looking to the suburbs to bail out the city with an RTA property tax." Given these numbers, the Northwest Herald should not assume that Holland's audit will bash the CTA but consider Pace and Metra to be exemplars of good management. (Note that the editorial says that the audit will finally be released in early March.)

Hopefully, Holland's audit will cast a critical look at the RTA/Moving Beyond Congestion Final Report recommendations. He might examine, for example, why so much of the new capital dollars are being pumped into suburban service boards that together carry only 20 percent of the public transit riders and predominately serve collar counties that are demographically and culturally resistant to traditional forms of public transit, especially buses.

In any event, the editorial ends on a shrill note worthy of Pate Phillip: "The average suburban taxpayer gets little benefit from the RTA. Do not call on him or her to rescue the money pit known as the Chicago Transit Authority."

You would think from this editorial that folks in Chicago must be dancing in the streets, celebrating their upcoming fleecing of suburbanites to fund the CTA. Actually, they are contemplating the upcoming mother of all slow zones on the northside rail lines, the latest blow to a rail system laid low by insufficient capital investment.

According to this NPR report (listen here), the Chicago Transit Authority Board passed a resolution urging the RTA to change the proposed distribution of capital funds to shift more of those funds to the CTA. The report states that the CTA argues that its capital infrastructure is three times the size of the combined Metra/Pace infrastructure, yet under the RTA's proposed five-year capital plan the CTA gets less than half of the capital dollars for transit in the region. The CTA argues that it should get an additional billion dollars to meet its needs.

So there you have it. The suburbanites feel they are getting fleeced by the RTA's proposed funding plan and the CTA believes that same plan shortchanges the CTA.

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