CHICAGO - A state transit task force proposed scrapping the current governance structure of transit services in the Chicago region under a framework that calls for the creation of new, single super agency with more funding support.
The recommendation to dismantle the current structure came in a final report approved Wednesday by the Northeastern Illinois Public Task Force seven months after Gov. Pat Quinn announced its formation and asked members to examine how the system's management and oversight could be improved.
While the governance proposal is central to the plan, the task force also addressed finance issues. It recommends overhauling the financial planning process for transit and urges new revenues be sought to bolster funding for operations and capital both sorely in need of more revenue.
The governance recommendations are considered the most controversial given the competing interests of city transit needs versus suburban needs. Currently the Regional Transportation Authority of Illinois, which was created in 1974, provides fiscal oversight for three services boards. They include the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra commuter rail which serves the city and suburbs, and Pace suburban bus service. Members of the three service boards produce their own budgets which make up the RTA budget and they all have a voice on the RTA board.
Under the recommendations, all four would be dismantled and a "single integrated agency with one board" would be created to set operational, funding, and planning policies and strategies. Three operating units would be established to manage day-to-day operations. It's a model similar to one used in New York and other cities examined by the task force.
"I am hopeful this report will serve as a guide to decision makers seeking to build a transit system that not only best serves the public, but is the envy around the world," said Illinois Transportation Department Secretary Ann Schneider, who served as chairman of the task force.
In addition to governance and finances, the report also offers recommendations on ethics reforms and system performance guidelines. An ethics scandal at Metra last year prompted Quinn to establish the task force.
Public finance banker and former CTA board chairwoman Carole Brown headed up the finance working group.
The more than 90-page report now goes to Quinn and lawmakers. Schneider stressed that the intention of the task force was to provide a framework from which legislation could crafted and considered as soon as this spring on at least some of the proposals.
Board members stressed that the document represented a "consensus" among panel members even though not all agreed on every recommendation.
Currently the RTA, which carries ratings in the double-A range, serves as the main borrowing vehicle for transit in the region, although the CTA has in recent years issued debt and backed its share of sales taxes and federal grants, and Metra has some untapped borrowing authority on its books.