Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Questions for the RTA: House Mass Transit Committee

The Illinois House Mass Transit Committee, which is chaired by Representative Julie Hamos, is holding a hearing this Friday at which RTA representatives will testify about the Moving Beyond Congestion plan set forth in the RTA's Final Report.

Here are some questions the Committee should consider asking the RTA about the Final Report and its proposal that transit funding be increased by $400 million annually to cover service board (CTA, Metra, Pace) operating deficits and $2 billion annually to fund transit capital improvements:

  • As the Final Report recognizes, the value of the proposed public investment in transit projects must be preserved by transit oriented development ("TOD") policies. To protect their investments in public transit, some public agencies around the country are requiring that local governments have TOD policies in place before the transit agency makes new transit investments in those areas. What legislative measures does the RTA propose to ensure that there will be strong TOD policies in place in the areas where it is proposing increased capital investment in transit?
  • Some public agencies around the country are generating transit funding by capturing a portion of the increase in property values resulting from a transit investment (e.g., a new or rehabbed rail station). Does this RTA support this funding tool and, if so, what legislation is necessary so that the RTA and/or the service boards can implement such a tool?
  • The Final Report identifies traffic congestion relief and environmental benefits (e.g., less air pollution and fuel consumption) as the key benefits that public transit delivers to the region. Would congestion pricing on the region's highway system be a more cost-effective way to achieve these same benefits (through lower and more efficient levels of highway usage) than expanding the public transit system at great cost? Why not?
  • The Final Report discusses congestion pricing and other demand management tools for dealing with highway congestion. Could the region's transit needs be provided more cost-effectively if transit service was priced based on distance traveled (as only Metra does today) and there was congestion pricing during times of peak transit travel (as no service board does today)?
  • What return on investment analysis or other objective criteria did the RTA use when it determined that over 80 percent of the "Invest to Enhance" and "Investment to Expand" capital investments (approximately $6 billion) should go to Metra and Pace even though the CTA carries approximately 80 percent of the public transit ridership in the region?
  • The Final Report states that the proposed capital plan would have a return on investment of only 1.1 to 1 (i.e., $1 invested in the transit capital improvements yields only $1.10 in benefits). The report finds that the ROI for the proposed new operating subsidy is much higher, about 3:1. What would be the amount of capital investment that would be required to fund only those projects that generate a 3:1 return? A 2:1 return? Why should the General Assembly use scare public money to fund capital investments that have only a marginal return when there are other public investments, such in education and healthcare, that may have a much higher rate of return?
  • In the proposed plan Metra's combined operating and capital subsidy is significantly higher than the public subsidy for Pace and the CTA on both a per trip basis and a per passenger mile basis. (See analysis here.) Why was Metra allocated a higher level of public subsidy than Pace and the CTA?
  • Since the RTA achieved its current form in 1983 there has been major increases in jobs and population in the collar counties. Yet, ridership on Pace and Metra has not increased significantly in the collar counties during this period and public transit's market share has dropped substantially. Given this performance during two and a half decades of highly favorable demographic changes, why does the RTA think that sharply increased investment in the Pace and Metra systems in the collar counties is cost effective?
  • The CTA Board recently passed a resolution urging the RTA to reconsider the non-inclusion in the RTA's proposed capital plan of $1.1 billion in capital dollars that the CTA indicated was necessary to bring its system to a "state of good repair." The RTA's Chairman indicated that these capital dollars did not meet the "laugh test" with legislators. Why does the RTA think that the General Assembly should consider the CTA's request for enough capital dollars to bring its existing system into a state of good repair laughable when the RTA is asking the General Assembly to allocate almost $6 billion to "enhance" and "expand" the current transit system? Shouldn't bringing the existing system into a state of good repair take priority over system enhancements and expansions?
  • This Committee's 2005 initial report on the RTA funding formula concluded (pg. 5) that "a significant portion of revenues generated in Cook County suburbs are cross-subsidizing both collar county and City of Chicago transit service." Does the RTA agree with this analysis and, if so, how does the RTA propose to equalize the burden of funding the region's public transit system throughout the region? If the RTA does not agree with this Committee's analysis, why does it disagree?
  • The Final Report lists outsourcing as one way for the service boards to realize cost savings. What are the existing barriers to such outsourcing by the service boards and how might the legislature help the service boards overcome them?
  • The RTA Act requires only $5 million in contributions from local governments. All $5 million goes to the CTA and is from only two local governments, the City of Chicago and Cook County. In light of the benefits of public transit outlined in the Moving Beyond Congestion report, should local contributions be required of more municipal and county governments in the region and, if so, which ones and by how much should local contributions be increased?
  • Most of the RTA's sales tax money is allocated to the service boards according to a statutory formula that differs by region--City of Chicago; suburban Cook County and the collar counties. Does the RTA believe that this formula best serves the State's interest in a strong regional public transit system? If not, should the funding formula be repealed or adjusted and, if so, how?
  • The Final Report lists a variety of ways more money can be raised to fund public transit. Based on its study of transit systems across the country and the world, what funding methods does the RTA recommend to provide a stable and sufficient financial foundation for the public transit system in northeastern Illinois?
  • Does the RTA believe that transit fare increases should be part of the proposed funding package to close the uncovered operating deficit and, if so, what is the optimum level of fare increases?
  • The RTA and the three service board have been in their current configuration for almost 25 years. During that period public transit's share of travel trips has dropped significantly and the RTA and the service boards have been unable to live within the income stream (i.e., RTA sales taxes) provided by the General Assembly. Why should the General Assembly assume that the current structure of transit governance and operations should remain unchanged in light of this weak performance? What recommendations does the RTA have with respect restructuring public transit governance and operations in northeastern Illinois?
  • The Chair of this Committee states on her website that: "I also believe that we need to transform the RTA if we hope to have a regional, integrated transit system, rather than three transit agencies acting independently. The RTA must become responsible for regional planning and coordination by setting annual goals, objectives and performance standards for transit services." Do you agree or disagree with this statement? If you agree, then what measures do you recommend be put in place? If you disagree, what is the basis for your disagreement?
  • The RTA Act (sec. 4.02(b)) designates the RTA as the "primary public body" in the metropolitan region with authority to apply for and receive state and federal grants for public transit. Yet, each of the service boards continue to take the lead in applying for and administering such grants. Why has the RTA given up its authority over the capital program to the service boards and what legislative changes would the RTA like the General Assembly to enact to help ensure that the transit capital program is the most cost-effective and coordinated among service modes as possible?
  • The Final Report notes that reverse commuting from Chicago to the suburbs and commutes between suburban residential and job centers are increasing. In light of these changes in commuting patterns does it make sense, for example, to combine Pace and CTA bus operations to realize economies of scale and to offer more seamless bus service throughout the six-county region? Based on the RTA's research into public transit best practices, what is the RTA's recommendation with respect to the best way to organize the delivery of transit services in northeastern Illinois?
  • Public officials in Kane and McHenry Counties have recently argued that their counties do not receive their fair share of transit service in exchange for the RTA sales tax their counties generate. These counties generate only about $24 million (2005 numbers) in RTA sales tax receipts each year. Transit service in their relatively less densely populated areas is very expensive for the service boards to supply. Consequently, does the RTA favor allowing these counties to leave the RTA while giving them the opportunity to purchase the transit service they want from Pace or Metra?
  • The Final Report asks the State of Illinois to possibly double its annual operating subsidy to the RTA system and to increase its capital support by at least several times over historical levels. In light of the increased financial demands on the State of Illinois, what increased oversight role for the State of Illinois--say through RTA board membership--does the RTA propose?
  • The RTA Act mandates a reallocation of RTA board memberships among the City of Chicago, suburban Cook County and the collar counties based on the 2000 Census. This reallocation was supposed to have been done by July 2003. Why has this reallocation of board membership not been done and what would the allocation of board memberships be pursuant to the 2000 Census?

No comments: