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Civic Federation Urges Linking Transit Governance Reform With Funding, Calls for Consolidation of Transit Services in Northeastern Illinois

Posted on April 25, 2024

With Northeastern Illinois’ transit agencies facing an estimated $730 million fiscal cliff in FY2026, the Civic Federation calls on the Illinois General Assembly to consolidate the Regional Transportation Authority, Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace as a single regional transit agency. Centralizing operations offers the best, most comprehensive solution to address both the critical funding shortage and longstanding transit governance and service inadequacies.

CHICAGO — The Civic Federation today released a position paper calling on the Illinois General Assembly to pursue foundational structural reform of Northeastern Illinois’ mass transit systems—the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra, Pace and the Regional Transit Authority (RTA)—by centralizing the service boards and operations under a single, duly empowered and resourced regional transit agency. Doing so would allow for more efficient, effective, integrated and equitable service delivery as well as more financially prudent use of taxpayer dollars as the agencies and State approach a once-in-a-generation transit funding shortfall due to decreased ridership and fare revenue and increased transit operating costs.

In December 2023, the Metropolitan Agency for Planning released a Plan of Action for Regional Transit (PART) report, in which it laid out potential solutions to the region’s mass transit funding crisis. One option proposed significant structural, operational and financial reform through the centralization of the three area transit service boards under the RTA, while another option proposed giving the RTA greater authority and resources to provide improved coordinating support to the three agencies. While the Civic Federation recognizes each option as meriting consideration, it regards and calls for consolidation as the best and only comprehensive solution to a seismic transit funding and operational crisis.

“Public transit is the circulatory system for becoming and maintaining a thriving, contemporary urban-centric region,” said Civic Federation President Joe Ferguson. “It is necessary to the optimization of regional economic growth and opportunity now and in the future, and it is essential to ensuring that growth and opportunity are accessible in ways that redress entrenched, historical inequity. The Federation sees a consolidated regional mass transit agency as the best way to achieve the high level of service delivery expected of a 21st century global region and economy. And it is the only way to ensure the optimal use of taxpayer revenue.”

Northeastern Illinois’ three transit agencies are overseen by the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), the existing government agency created by the State of Illinois to coordinate the operations of Chicago’s multiple transit providers. However, the RTA is limited in its power and authority; the three transit service boards lack a regional vision and coordinated service delivery plans, and they compete with one another for resources.

As the Civic Federation’s new paper explains, the State’s current transit funding formula is outdated and fails to account for changes in transit service utilization. The existing governance structure also allows for deficiencies in accountability and transparency around decision-making. And while the State of Illinois provides significant funding to public transit, its role in transit planning, operations and decision-making around how funds are utilized is very limited. Meanwhile, the consulting firm Slalom estimates that consolidating Northeastern Illinois’ transit agencies under an empowered Regional Transportation Authority could save the State as much as $200 to $250 million annually.

“It is incumbent upon the General Assembly to take the opportunity presented by this once-in-a-generation crisis to produce lasting results for Northeastern Illinois and all its residents, many of whom do and should be able to depend on effective public transportation to have meaningful access and lower transactional costs to economic and employment opportunities, as well as the rich cultural and entertainment resources of the region,” Ferguson said. “This moment calls for bold thinking in the best interest of the public and a dramatic reimagining of what is possible for our transit services.”