Thursday, August 23, 2007

Busy News Day For Transit: What Does It Mean?

Operating Budget

The Governor has exercised his veto powers and squeezed about $463 million out of the operating budget approved by the Illinois House and the Senate. (Veto message here.) The approved State funding for transit escaped gubernatorial trimming. The amounts for paratransit ($54,251,555), reduced fare reimbursement ($37,318,100), the Public Transportation Fund match of the RTA sales taxes ($193,000) and RTA bonds ($135,300,000) have changed little since the Governor's budget proposal in the Spring.

It's A Rally!

Representative Julie Hamos has announced a transit funding rally for Tuesday, August 28, at 11:30 a.m. at the Thompson Center Plaza. Mayor Daley, DuPage County Board Chair Robert Schillerstrom, Representative Hamos and Representative Sid Mathias (House Mass Transit Committee Minority Spokesperson) are the featured rally rousers. (Note that Rep. Hamos' Mass Transit web page lists the date as August 27, which is wrong.)

At the time of this posting I did a quick search of the websites of the Moving Beyond Congestion project, the RTA, the service boards, the Metropolitan Planning Council, Illinois PIRG, CNT-Transit Future and Save Chicagoland Transit. There was no mention of the rally on any of their homepages. Consequently, it appears that the "rally" is intended to provide a backdrop of a small and photogenic crowd for what amounts to a press conference rather than mark the kick off any sort of mass movement in support of SB 572.

In light of this puzzling lack of publicity about the rally--by groups and service boards who to date haven't been shy about publicizing their support of SB 572--can someone shed light on the intended purpose of the "rally" and the target size for the crowd?

In light of the slim return thus far from all the speechifying, editorials and Op-Ed pieces, one wonders if the rally will bear the same relation to increased transit funding that a rain dance does to more rain.

Dour Dorval

The CTA's Executive Vice-President Dorval Carter, generally known for his pleasant disposition, was Mr. Gloom at today's RTA meeting, warning that the coming 2007 CTA "doomsday" cuts are but a preclude to a 2008 transit apocalypse unless more operating subsidies are found, and quickly:

CTA service would be completely decimated,” cut as much as 75%, CTA Executive Vice-president Dorval Carter said at the Regional Transportation Authority board meeting. “You’ll see CTA customers stranded as their transit options disappear.”

Without a new transit funding package from state lawmakers, the CTA could also raise cash fares next year to as high as $6 to plug what could be a $250-million hole in its operating budget, Mr. Carter said. Single-ride cash fares are currently $2.

The Mayor's new 21st Century Commission may point the way out of this mess. Keep your eye on this ball folks. From the Commission could come all sorts of interesting funding and operational ideas. The CTA is within the scope of the group's work.

SB 572 Moving Ahead?

The same article states that the House Mass Transit Committee will take up SB 572 on September 4th. There is no such meeting on the Committee's website, however. Note that the next round of Pace cuts go into effect on September 1st and the CTA has set September 16th as the dawning of its doomsday.

Kane 'Em

The good burghers of Kane County are still unhappy. Here's an overview of their grievance:

On Wednesday, Kane County Board Legislative Committee Chairman Bill Wyatt, R-Aurora, spoke out against a proposed House amendment that, he said, would cause the collar counties to pay for Chicago Transit Authority improvements. Metra and Pace – used most frequently by suburbanites – would not benefit as much, Wyatt said.

Committee member Gerry Jones, D-Aurora, said local funds raised by a proposed regional sales-tax increase would be filtered through the Regional Transportation Authority system rather than staying local.

Metra is what we want,” Jones said. “RTA is not.”

Kane County also doesn't like SB 572 because it (and McHenry County) would get less representation on the RTA Board than some of the other collar counties:

Wyatt also expressed concern in a proposed change to the RTA board of directors that would put 16 people on the board instead of the current 13.

The current 13-member board has three members picked by the collar counties. DuPage County picks one member and Kane, Lake, Will and McHenry counties work together to pick the other two.

The new board would increase the collar counties’ representation from three to five, but Wyatt was concerned about how those picks were distributed. Under the new plan, DuPage, Lake and Will would each pick one member and those three counties would work together to pick a fourth member. The fifth slot would be picked jointly by Kane and McHenry counties.

This is not enough representation for Kane and McHenry compared to the other collar counties, Wyatt said.

“They get 11⁄3 [picks], we get 1⁄2,” he said. “There’s no way we can accept a marginalized seat.”

As discussed previously (here , here, here and here), the many complaints from Kane County and McHenry County about the RTA are in inverse proportion to their contribution to the region's public transit system. After all, these counties pay relatively little into the RTA system through sales taxes. At the same time they burden the region with development patterns inhospitable to public transit. These development patterns make the cost of supplying transit in these counties prohibitively expensive. Exhibit A is the Metra's extension of service to Elburn, which cost several hundred million dollars yet serves relatively few people.

The proponents of SB 572 should amend the bill to exclude Kane and McHenry counties from the RTA Act. The revised bill would require Metra and Pace to provide service to those counties at cost, paid in advance. Kane and McHenry counties would no longer have to pay any RTA sales taxes and they and their elected representatives could figure out how to pay for whatever level of public transit service they desire.

It is time to call the bluff of these two collar counties. Of course, maybe they won't come back to the fold even after they understand just how much more it would cost them to retain the current Metra and Pace service levels. If they prefer to go their own way, then let's happily downsize the RTA to include only those counties that want to be a part of the RTA "family" and won't be a constant political and demographic drag on improving the public transit system in this region.

I know that full-funding grant agreements and the like may require Metra to continue running some service in Kane and McHenry counties. My guess is that there is sufficient room in those agreements to allow Metra to scale back its service in those counties to a level commensurate to what these two whiny counties are willing to pay for after arms-length bargaining with Metra.

* * *

What does it all mean? I agree with Jim Reilly's assessment.


Unknown said...

The breathtaking cuts outlined by CTA beg the question: why did Huberman even bother to soften the "doomsday" blow for 2007? If it's a shutdown that Springfield wants, give them a shutdown, Title VI be damned. Indeed, duck and let Springfield get hit by the lawsuits.

Anonymous said...

Love the line "one wonders if the rally will bear the same relation to increased transit funding that a rain dance does to more rain."

sabrina said...

You know what? My first reaction: Shut the hell up, Kane County. You want Metra? Why? It only takes you into the city that you have such distaste for.

I'm with you. Dump Kane and McHenry and let them pay their own way entirely if they're so worried about being marginalized.

And actually, I'm feeling cranky today so I'll throw in with pc as well. Shut 'er down and let people soak in it. I can walk to work if I need to -- let's see if all of Chairman Wyatt's constituency can do the same.

Anonymous said...

On the projected 2008 deficits, it isn't clear, for instance, whether the $250 million mentioned in the article is on top of the $100 million in cuts supposedly needed to balance the 2007 CTA budget. If so, operating expenses have risen to such an extent that what was a $54 million deficit with paratransit in 2005 and 2006 became a $350 million deficit were we to assume that the 2006 service level were maintained into 2008. If we take the numbers on their face and not assume service levels, the CTA 2008 deficit is still double 2007's. Just shows that we can't trust the numbers.Of course, CTA is no longer responsible for paratransit, and that deficit grew from about $66 million in 2005 (including suburban) to about $90 million in 2007. There is no way that sales tax can maintain growth at that rate. With this rate of deficit growth, the CTA will eat up the $400 million in additional revenues MBC wants in no time.

With regard to the collar counties, maybe purchase of service would work. But that will sure kill Kruesi's idea that they owe Chicago something. Of course, Kruesi is gone and so are his tax ideas. What we should find is some way for suburban Cook County to seceede.

Anonymous said...


"What we should find is some way for suburban Cook County to seceede."

????? just confused; please elaborate.

BTW, I also loved the statement, "We want Metra, not RTA". This could explain the $107M split in new transit dollars to Metra, even though their operating deficit is $11.5M in 2007 and decreases to $6.0M in 2008.


Anonymous said...

1. To clarify my comparison of 2006 and 2008 service levels, I am assuming that Carter is assuming the Sept. 2007 service cuts. When we assume...
2. To elaborate on Cook County seceding:
a. There was the 2005 report that suburban Cook County cross subsidizes the collar counties by $100 million a year with regard to the RTA. There hasn't been an update on that, but since the list of poorly performing routes, apparently scheduled to be cut in any event, includes 210, 616, 690, 699, and 835, and weekend cuts to 208, 304, 320, 348, 422, and 423, I'm sure suburban Cook County's position isn't improved, although there are also some collar county routes being cut.
b. There was a proposal (I guess about 7 years ago) to divide Cook County itself into 6 counties, each based where the Municipal District Courthouse was located. There was a subsequent advisory referendum in the south suburbs to form "Lincoln County" (link to a Channel 7 report).

Now, with overlaps of CTA service into the suburbs, there probably can't be a clean break. However, CTA's Doomsday plans have always started with cutting out Evanston first, although the final one seems to have retained 201. The last proposal had the ultimately rejected ideas of eliminating the Yellow Line and Purple Express. Any representation of the suburbs on the CTA Board is only by grace of the Governor, and reports are that any suburban members are not from suburbs served by CTA.

In the meantime, I recognize the names of just about all of the state representatives from north suburban Cook County as co-sponsors of SB 572. (I can't really get a map of how many districts there are in Chicago, but there are 13 sponsors who have their offices in the city.) Thus, it appears to me that the north surburban area is pulling a disproportionate share of the weight compared to the benefit.

MsM, that's my elaboration. I don't have all the details on how to pull it off. However, as a suburbanite, I am tired of having the political agenda dictated by the Daley-Stroger machine, including functionaries such as Kruesi and Carole Brown, instead of having a real choice. From the Lincoln County reports, apparently south suburbanites feel the same way, although that area does not have the tax resources that the northern areas do to be able to support separate operation.

Anonymous said...

Moderator siad:
"At the time of this posting I did a quick search of the websites of the Moving Beyond Congestion project, the RTA, the service boards, the Metropolitan Planning Council, Illinois PIRG, CNT-Transit Future and Save Chicagoland Transit. There was no mention of the rally on any of their homepages. Consequently, it appears that the "rally" is intended to provide a backdrop of a small and photogenic crowd for what amounts to a press conference rather than mark the kick off any sort of mass movement in support of SB 572.

In light of this puzzling lack of publicity about the rally--by groups and service boards who to date haven't been shy about publicizing their support of SB 572--can someone shed light on the intended purpose of the "rally" and the target size for the crowd?"

The details of the rally (time, place) were solidified on Wednesday. So the publicity has not had an opportunity to percolate.

On Wednesday, Resolute sent an email to all "Partners for Transit" promoting the rally, as well as a pre-rally briefing at a nearby restaurant.

Yesterday, sponsors of the bill were encouraged to send messages to their constituent email lists. I recieved several, since somehow I'm on multiple reps' lists. Also yesterday, MBC sent a promotional email to their entire email list. The size of this supporter base has been questioned on this blog, but I have it on good authority it is in the tens of thousands.

This morning, Save Chicagoland Transit send out a mass email promoting the rally. My understanding is that PIRG and CNT plan to do the same, but are also moving forward with plans for their own related events. LVEJO may also invite its members.

Finally, I have heard the ATU plans to bring union members in for the rally.

So it sounds like ambition for the size and diversity of the rally is large. That said, in my experience it is very difficult to get people to show up to events such as this, especially when the supporter base is diffuse. We shall see how it actually turns out.

A response to Jack's comment regarding the size of the CTA budget hole. The requirement that CTA make catch-up payments to take its pension fund to a fully funded level, slipped into the budget bill last year by Michael Madigan, kicks in in state FY 2009, which begins July 1, 2008. This is the midpoint of CTA fiscal year 2008. So without additional funding and pension reform a la SB 572, it is true that the deficit will be markedly higher, without any consideration of operating cost escalation.

Who cares? Today's post confirms that he is an outside observer, and only moderately well-informed. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that. But Sick Transit is not the incognito insider we had hoped. The lack of activity on Who Is Sick Transit? suggests that others have come to the same conclusion.

My only issue is that comments of the Moderator, along with those of near co-moderator Jack, occasionally drip with contempt and over-the-top snark even while ignorant of salient facts.

Anonymous said...

I would like to thank Anonymous, who doesn't even have the confidence to use a pen name, for the last remark. I understand that we are all actors in the ether of unknown players. Apparently we are all playing by the same rules, but... Do you represent any of the organizations you mentioned?

Anonymous said...

... or the RTA or its consultant?

Anonymous said...

I think I know who the anon is and can tell you he's not affiliated with any of the organizations you accuse him of being affiliated with.

However, I do agree that the level of "snark" here is excessive.

Anonymous said...

We are supposed to accept "I think I know who the anon is ..." and "he's not affiliated with any of the organizations you accuse him...".

The answer is that anon should disclose his or her interest in the matter. No one accused him of being a member of an organization; I just asked, for the reason stated in the preceding sentence. And if anon is saying the other persons' posts "occasionally drip with contempt and over-the-top snark even while ignorant of salient facts," which I take as an accusation, he or she should disclose the source of the facts anon is posting.

I will disclose my interest as only being a taxpayer, who wrote state legislators asking for reform as a condition for more funding, and am disappointed with the results of the political process. Both of you can say "snark," but back up your assertions.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it hypocritical to ask people to disclose their identities and affiliations when both Moderator and Jack shroud themselves in mystery? The bottom line is that many of us come to this site with information that can only be revealed if we stay anonymous.

Anonymous said...

This is beginning to look a lot like Circulator II. Same cast, same outcomes, same scapegoats. Same, same. Start going down the list of protagonists...then and now.

Tom Bamonte said...

Anonymous 10:10 a.m.--

Thanks for the update on the publicity effort for Tuesday's rally and analysis of the impact of the pension funding requirement on the CTA's upcoming budgets.

As Brian's post suggests, anonymity seems to suit most posters. It encourages participation and candor. Grandstanding and snark are risks, but on the whole this group has done pretty well. If I deleted every post "dripping with contempt," after all, your post would be gone as well.

As to my identity, I've made no claims of being an "insider" or "outsider." I have made an effort when the online finger points at someone to clear them of responsibility.

Let's focus on the issues. I hope you keep posting.

Anonymous said...


Who ordered up the UP-West Line extension? I believe it was Metra and not Kane county. Who decides in our region where and when to expand the transit system anyway?

Actually the current UP-W upgrade appears more beneficial to central Kane commuters than the extension.

Anonymous said...

It's likely as simple as Metra needing suburban constituency to blunt any effort to force it to serve a regional role, rather than its current, narrow focus on getting suburbanites downtown.

Although the party power structure has changed a bit since the RTA act was last revised, the division of dominion remains roughly the same: the mayor of Chicago controls the CTA, and the suburbs control Metra.
The city wants suburban money for CTA, but certainly doesn't want to share the power.

Metra, despite Phil's croc tears, isn't in nearly as bad shape. It can raise fares pretty much as needed, and scale service back much more readily. Unlike CTA, Metra has almost no exposure to voter anger.

The only threat to Metra's current situation, as you might suspect, is that it might be asked to respond to a less narrow constituency. No surprise, then, that Metra attempts to blunt this by building up its user base of people who need to get to Chicago from the hinterlands. It doesn't need massive volumes of these people, but it does need their county governments to take a stake, as Kane is doing.

Unknown said...

It's Monday morning, and I got a call about the rally just now. Looks like they are going through the whole mailing list to build up turnout fopr tomorrow. Still nothing on the MBC website, though.

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