Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Transit Board Rivalry and Distrust--Finally Resolved

As Chicago Tribune writer Rich Wronski reported, the key RTA officials behind the Moving Beyond Congestion effort met recently with the Chicago Tribune editorial board.

While the Tribune's day-to-day reporting on transit issues is solid, its analysis thus far of the larger transit funding and governance issues has been superficial. (Contrast Crain's.) Thus, it is likely that we will soon see a positive Tribune editorial in support of more transit funding. After all, it is hard to be against public transit. Unfortunately, if past performance is any indication the Tribune will provide us with little in-depth analysis of how best to fund those improvements, whether the RTA's capital improvement plan makes good sense and whether the governance structure for transit in the region should change.

The article does contain this tidbit:

The rivalry and distrust that marked relations among the transit agencies in the past have been resolved, officials said. "We have the full support of the service boards," Schlickman said. "They're committed with us 100 percent."

Apparently, someone forgot to inform the CTA that it is "committed . . . 100 percent" to the Moving Beyond Congestion plan. Just last week, the CTA Board passed a resolution expressing dismay that the RTA's proposed capital plan left the CTA $1.1 billion short of the capital dollars necessary to bring the CTA system into a state of good repair. (You can find the CTA's analysis here--go to "Unfunded Capital Needs.")

CTA Chairman Carole Brown was quoted in this Tribune/Redeye article as follows:

The CTA requested $5.8 billion," Brown said. "Only the CTA would have to shortchange some of its customers because the $5 billion is not enough to address all the needs of the system and get it into a state of good repair."

RTA says that the region provides 2 million daily rides," said Brown, who also sits on the RTA board. "The CTA delivers 1.5 million of those rides."

Jim Reilly of the RTA responded that the CTA could do a lot with the capital money it would get under the proposed plan and then made this observation:

If you ask our other service boards, we didn't fully fund all the needs of Metra and Pace either," Reilly said, adding that any budget figure had to pass the "laugh test" with lawmakers in order for it to be approved.

I suspect the folks at the CTA who are running old buses that never had a mid-life rehabilitation out of bus garages that are decades old or who are in charge of allocating scarce track rehabilitation and repair resources to fix the rail system may take exception to their needs being described as unable to pass the "laugh test." If spending capital money to put TVs on Pace buses can pass this laugh test, surely industry best practices for maintaining a transit system should too.

Yet, the folks at CTA might also be a bit miffed at Chairman Brown. She cast her vote as an RTA Board member in favor of the Moving Beyond Congestion Plan at the RTA Board meeting on February 8th. Just six days later, at the CTA board meeting, she presumably supported the CTA Board resolution criticizing that Plan and asking the RTA to do a more rigorous capital needs analysis that would take into account the CTA's capital needs.

I guess she was for it before she was against it!

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