I have just about as much sympathy with the complaints of the suburbanites about RTA funding issues and public transit service levels in the suburbs as I would if Chicago political leaders started complaining about the low levels of agricultural subsidies and farms in the City of Chicago.
The suburbs, by choice and with the help of ample subsidies from the state and federal governments, have created a built environment and transportation infrastructure that is largely hostile to cost-effective/high-ridership public transportation, just as the City of Chicago has developed in a way that is quite unamenable to agriculture. The notion that the suburbs are being "shortchanged" with public transit has as much credibility as Chicago complaining that it is being "shortchanged" when it comes to agricultural subsidies and farms.
Now, Chicago should expect to get its fair share of agricultural funding if it chooses to replace office towers with cornfields. Likewise, the suburbs should get more support for public transit if they take aggressive steps to build up the population density necessary to make public transportation viable outside of the current Metra corridors and a relatively few Pace bus routes. As discussed below, it appears that the suburbs are unwilling to embrace such transit-oriented development.
It is also important to remember that there are really two "suburbs" for present purposes, suburban Cook County and the collar counties. As the Auditor General Report found (pgs. 316-28 of 450), suburban Cook County pays far more into the public transit system than it receives back in service. The collar counties, the primary constituency to whom the Suburban Transportation Commission is oriented, pay less into the system than they receive in service.
One outcome of the first meeting of the Commission was the development of “Suburban Transportation Principles” with the "full support' of the Commission and 10 mayors from the 10th Congressional District. The principles are as follows (with commentary):
- Federal, state and local officials must work on a bipartisan basis to upgrade road, rail, aviation and transit systems in the Chicago suburbs.
- Illinois Congressional leaders should join together to win the maximum return of federal transportation funding from Washington.
- Improving the suburb's transportation infrastructure is essential to economic growth, environmental protection and enhanced quality of life for suburban families.
- The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) consensus system, which gives suburbs and the city veto power over major decisions, resulted in 30 years of no service interruptions, high bond ratings and financial stability for suburban commuters.
- Reforms, if made to the RTA, should be made providing the citizens of the region with one-person, one-vote equality. Over half of all Illinois citizens now live in the suburbs.
- Current RTA subsidies to the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra and Pace are allocated to appropriate formulas. Any effort to reform these formulas should be directed to emphasize suburb-to-suburb commuting, Chicago use of suburban transportation services and projects in communities where traffic congestion is a serious issue.
- Regional transportation decisions should not diminish the authority of elected mayors and village councils over land use and zoning.
- The organization of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) has been well received. Unwarranted changes to the structure of CMAP would undo the regional consensus that brought the Agency into existence.
- Any increase in taxes, fees or other charges should be made only after they are individually approved by the voters of the region on a one-person, one-vote basis.
Reforms to the RTA and suburban transportation system should reflect open public debate and thoughtful consideration of experts and the press.
Response: How are we doing?