Sunday, July 1, 2007

Representative Hamos' Transit Governance Proposal: Where's The Consistency?

Representative Julie Hamos has released a transit governance proposal for comment. The proposal leaves the boards and the selection process unchanged for Pace and the CTA, but makes changes for the RTA and Metra boards. This blog has discussed transit governance issues before. Links for reference are here, here, here, and here.

A description of Representative Hamos' proposal and analysis follow:

RTA Governance

The proposal keeps the 13 member RTA Board. It eliminates the CTA Chairman from the board. That seat is awarded to the collar counties, who would now have 4 board seats appointed as follows: one each by the Chairmen of the Lake, DuPage and Will County boards and one selected jointly by the McHenry and Kane County boards.

Chicago's Mayor would continue to have four appointments to the RTA Board. Cook County would retain four board spots, but the Chairman of the Cook County Board would have one of the appointments. Currently, all four Cook County Board appointments are made by the suburban members of the Cook County Board.

The current RTA Act imposes a nine-vote supermajority requirement for important board actions such as appointment of the Chairman and the approval of the service board budgets. If that supermajority requirement is retained then the Chicago bloc would lose its veto power over such actions. The proposal increases the supermajority requirement to ten votes. This would give the collar counties, Chicago and perhaps Cook County veto power over major RTA actions, either a recipe for consensus and collaboration or gridlock.

Metra Governance

Representative Hamos' proposal purports to expand the Metra Board from seven to nine members. (See Inconsistency #1 below.) Under the proposal Chicago's Mayor would continue to appoint a single member of the Metra Board. Cook County will retain its three seats, with the Chairman selecting one board member and the suburban Cook County board members selecting two members. Currently, the suburban members of the Cook County Board select all three Cook County representatives.

Under the proposal collar counties would have four appointments: One each by the Chairman of the Lake, DuPage and Will county boards and one selected jointly by the Chairmen of the Kane and McHenry county boards. The Chairman of the Metra Board will be "appointed from among the members," which is the case today.

Inconsistency #1

There is something wrong with the Metra proposal. The proposal provides only eight appointees for a nine member board: Chicago Mayor (1); Cook County (3); collar counties (4). The Chairman is to be selected from "among" these board members, so the Chairman does not make nine.

My guess is that Representative Hamos intends that the eight Metra board appointees select another person to serve as Chairman, just as the appointed members of the RTA Board select the RTA Chairman. Alternatively, she intends to give the Mayor of Chicago two appointments in recognition of the importance of the Metra system to Chicago and vice versa.

Until she clarifies this point, however, we won't know for sure what are her intentions.

Inconsistency #2

Representative Hamos' proposal does nothing about a key inconsistency in the RTA Act. The Act allocates the RTA Board seats on the basis of population (RTA Act Section 3.01). Given that transit usage is concentrated in Chicago and nearby suburbs, this means that RTA board representation is disportionately large in areas where there is little transit usage.

Metra's board seats, on the other hand, are allocated based on transit usage. Board seats are allocated based on morning boarding. (RTA Act Section 3B.02) The selection of "morning boardings" for the allocation measure, of course, is strongly favorable to suburban representation since most Metra trips originate in the suburbs in the morning and in Chicago in the evening.

Putting that fact aside, what accounts for using a population-based allocation formula for the RTA Board and then switching to a service-based allocation formula for the Metra Board? Shouldn't some weight be given when allocating RTA Board seats to the fact that two-thirds of transit trips in the region orginate in the City of Chicago? Likewise, when allocating Metra Board seats shouldn't Chicago get some credit for the fact that it has over a third of the region's population and is the destination for most Metra trips?

One can credibly argue that a population-based allocation of board seats makes sense for a regional oversight agency while a service-based allocation formula makes sense when allocating board seats for a service board. The problem with current "inconsistency" between the RTA and Metra board allocation formulas is that it leads to the same consistent result in both cases, namely, greater collar county representation and less City of Chicago representation.

This may be political reality. But it certainly must stick in the craw of those running and supporting the transit agency that provides 80 percent of the transit trips in this region, namely, the CTA, and the City of Chicago and near suburbs that generate and absorb most of the transit trips in the region.

Omission #1

The Governor has continued to signal his opposition to the RTA regional tax increases Representative Hamos has proposed (SB 572). The State of Illinois continues to supply significant money to this region's public transit system, although it is far less than the RTA and the service boards would like.

You would think under these circumstances that Representative Hamos would propose a larger role for the Governor in transit governance, say by giving the Governor the power to select the RTA Chairman. Giving the Governor a bit more authority might help soften the Governor's position. We already know he is interested in representation on the CMAP board, so it is natural to expect the Governor to be interested in having some role on the RTA Board.

Maybe Representative Hamos is confident that her RTA funding and governance package will attract veto-proof majorities. But would it have been so terrible to give the Governor some substantive role at the RTA level in light of the level of actual and hoped-for State financial support for the region's public transit system?

Comment Period

Representative Hamos is accepting comments on her governance proposal. Comments can be submitted by email at by Friday, July 6 at 4:00 pm. Comments will be compiled and posted at on Monday, July 9.


Anonymous said...

That CTA governance remains unchanged is either a huge oversight, a political sidestep or both. Given the financial support from cook suburbs and CTA's need for political relevance beyond the Chicago sphere of influence, CTA governance would be most critical. Guess what? No change. Its the credibility stupid! Want regional relevance? Uncouple from the Mayor.

jackonthebus said...

Some of this appears to be to placate Emil Jones, who is carrying Todd Stroger's water.

I agree with the above commentator. Without CTA reform, I can't see delaying SB572 just for this (with the service boards threatening cutbacks) unless this is the legislative deal needed to get it off the schneid.

jackonthebus said...

Some of this may also be political posturing to try to get a veto proof majority, not to further good governance. I cite for example, an exchange on Tom Roeser's WLS talk show last night, when he asked Tom Cross: "Are the Republicans in favor of doubling the collar county RTA sales tax with most of this going to the CTA?" to which Cross replied that the Republicans are not in favor of higher taxes. Technically, Roeser's question was correct (RTA tax goes from .25% to .50%, and 60% of the new money goes to the CTA), but ignores other facets, such as Frank Kruesi's statements in 2004 that the formula should be changed so that the collar county rate be raised to match Cook's, and just about all the money should go to CTA. There are still CTA apologists who say that "CTA gives 85% of all transit trips in the region" and thus is being shortchanged by this proposal, even though they do not mention that this percentage is of "unlinked trips," not passenger miles or fares. Roeser's question also ignored the other .25% increase to be controlled by the county boards. Hence, the votes may not be there for the current bill, with dissent on both sides.

As to whether any of this leads to reforms, I question whether giving the RTA more power will result in anything, if it takes 10 of 13 votes to make a major decision. I previously commented that giving the RTA more coordination power will not work in practice if it takes 7 votes just to get the Executive Director to intervene (although with CTA chair off the RTA board, maybe it will be easier to get the simple majority).

db said...

How about a single transit agency? Seems to work in metro St. Louis with Bi-State, and they have to coordinate state governments, not just localities.

Also, how about Blago and Jones refraining from their constant attempts at setting the city and suburbs against one another? The RTA's first idea of raising the collar county tax and bringing in new revenue from the city with the real estate transfer tax seemed to me like a very good compromise, and then the governor comes in with his no-new-taxes chant and in the very same breath says he'll veto anything that doesn't feather-bed CTA.

Anonymous said...

Why not allocate board seats based on taxes and fares paid? Representation with taxation? What would that look like?

Rep. Julie Hamos said...

Please note that this proposal for governance changes is eminating from the Senate, not the House. There is indeed an error in the proposed new composition of the Metra Board, in that only 8 persons are accounted for, not 9. That leaves open some options, and all good ideas are welcome. Your comments will be considered as we finalize comprehensive transit legislation in the next few weeks.

Anonymous said...

If all of the SB's need funding then they all need funding because as some like to say, revenues-have-not-kept-up with-expenses. Alternatively one could argue (see the oft mentioned Holland Report) that in the CTA's case, expenses-have-exceeded-revenues. In which case, here's a question that begs for a good idea from the senate or more appropriately the house's chief strategists: Which of the transit agencies including RTA have documented management issues? Because credibility would argue that those are the ones that are most in need of some good ol'fashioned governance reforms. Hey--you think the strategists are familiar with the phenomena of "strategic backfire"? YOU KNEW OR YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN. Arguably, the damage is done. But next time--if there is a next time-- get some real strategists.

jackonthebus said...

I guess I was right about Emil Jones.

db: You are theoretically correct, but politics will keep it from happening in Illinois. The Chicago political machine does not want to lose the right to control the CTA. Daley wants to take credit for such things as the 10 hybrid buses, but funding is the legislature's problem. Fortunately, he has taken a few steps in a constructive direction by dumping Frank Kruesi and working on the announced labor agreement. Conversely, the suburbs want little to do with the Chicago political machine, Democratic politics have little to do with democracy. The only time there seems to be agreement is that when the transit systems of both the city and suburbs reach the crisis stage. In 1973, several suburban bus companies went out of business, the Rock Island and Milwaukee Road were heading into bankruptcy, and the IC applied to more than double its fares. In 1981, apparently CTA fares doubled and suburban bus service was curtailed. Now you have Metra and Pace proposing Doomsday plans, and for once the Governor's interest is slightly engaged.

4:28: Clearly the CTA needs management reforms. The Auditor General also mentioned that Metra's expenses are starting to exceed its revenues, and it should consider raising fares, but didn't really attack Metra management. Pace did well compared to its peer group, but the issue there is that it is too small to have much of any influence on the total picture. The paratransit report posted on Rep. Hamos's site indicates that a lot of capital investment is need to make paratransit more efficient.

jackonthebus said...

I meant CTA and Pace doomsday plans.
I should have also mentioned that while Pace seems effectively managed with constrained resources, the Moving Beyond Congestion plan at least indicates a Pace "wish list" of services that would compete with Metra and the like. Its restructuring plans, on the other hand, reflect changes that would minimize that competition.

Moderator said...

7/2 Anonymous-

See this old post on tax effort:

Paul said...

Nowadays it is necessary that a senior officer or board member have some relationship with a potential director in order to ensure they have enough information to be able to recommend this candidate for board appointments .