Thursday, April 5, 2007

New Transit Campaign In Town

There is the Moving Beyond Congestion effort organized by the RTA and the Transportation for Illinois Coalition co-sponsored by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. Now there is the Transit Future Campaign, a "coalition to bring better transit to the Chicago region" that is being organized by the Center for Neighborhood Technology. That's one transit campaign per service board.

The TFC claims its mandate for action is as follows:

The significant drop in quality of service is a result of a veritable transit crisis in Northeastern Illinois, due both to lack of funding at the state and local levels and the overall funding mandates of the Regional Transportation Authority. Limited funding has left our transit system sorely lacking appropriate maintenance, sufficient operating costs, and investment for expansion projects.

As operating funds have dwindled in recent years, capital funds have been used to fill the gap, resulting in poor maintenance of the current system. This method of financing is not sustainable for much longer, and it has left the Regional Transportation Authority—the parent agency for the CTA, METRA, and PACE—almost entirely void of operating funds.
Congress provided capital funds for Illinois in the 2005 SAFETEA-LU Act, but these federal dollars require a local match in order to expend the funds. The state has failed to provide the capital match, which costs the state money while our infrastructure continues to deteriorate. Consequently, the President ordered a $116 million rescission for the state of Illinois, a process that sends federal money back to the US Treasury. The General Assembly has the power to prevent rescissions, which would allow those federal transportation funds to go towards transit.

In addition to the funding crisis, there is a huge and inequitable funding disparity within the RTA that needs to be addressed. For over 20 years, the RTA has not been structured to provide equitable transit funding throughout the region. In 1983, the method of funding was changed, ignoring transit ridership and other system performance measures in favor of an arbitrary formula based on geography.

As a result, the CTA is facing a structural deficit with no way to get to black, and it has not been able to maintain its commitment to provide quality service. The funding formula needs to be changed and equity restored to the system.

The TFC plans to combine advocacy of some short-term service improvement measures with a more ambitious agenda. Its short-term goals are as follows:

• Priority bus lanes for buses;
• Restricted parking on major bus routes paralleling rapid transit construction corridors;
• Cooperative traffic and incident management planning;
• Improved cleanliness on buses and rail cars and on rail stations and platforms.

TFC's larger agenda is as follows:

Our ultimate goal is to reform transit governance and planning. The RTA must exert financial and planning authority for CTA, Metra, and Pace in order to ensure exemplary service. Our transit system requires adequate funding of a 21st century transit system based on clear measures of performance, which will be determined through public input on quantifiable and qualitative performance measures.

TFC states that as part of its work it will do an analysis of transit benefits and costs by legislative district:

Transit Future will conduct research that seeks to document the stake of every Illinois legislative district in transit reform. We will develop a series of maps depicting the transportation costs in each legislative district in the region. These maps will expose the real cost of transportation as compared with the relatively small tax burden of transit, and will examine transit’s impact on household income, property values near transit, local retail near transit, and available transportation options for residents.

This could be a very interesting analysis. While TFC states that "there is a huge and inequitable funding disparity within the RTA" and indicates that the CTA is the service board that has been shortchanged, the TFC analysis might find that both the collar counties and the City of Chicago are paying significantly less than the transit benefits they receive. This was the conclusion of a study done for the House Mass Transit Committee, now unfortunately unavailable from the website of Representative Julie Hamos, the chair of the Committee. (I can email a copy on request.)

The TFC speaks favorably of Representative Hamos' bill to "reform" the RTA, HB 1841. As demonstrated here and here, it is unlikely that the bill will do much to improve the RTA's performances in any fundamental way. Perhaps the TFC will realize this in time and push for a true restructuring of the public transit system.

The TFC was kicked off on March 23. It does not appear that the TFC has done anything of public note since then. Let's hope that the TFC becomes an effective presence. As noted here, we need someone to push for a transit agenda around grassroots/social justice themes. The current alliance between the RTA and the Transportation for Illinois Coalition is not likely to be productive for transit given that the TFIC is closely associated with the folks who are leading the charge against the Governor and his tax/health care/education plan.


Anonymous said...

Yes, and CNT does great work. For example, see this map.

Anonymous said...

Would love to get a copy of that report. nudelhead AT