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Proposed new agency would combine Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, Pace

Proposed Illinois law would do away with RTA, merge transit agencies
Proposed Illinois law would do away with RTA, merge transit agencies 02:33

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Illinois state legislation proposed Monday would do away with the Regional Transportation Authority and combine the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace into one transit agency.

The Metropolitan Mobility Authority Act would allow riders to pay one universal fare for one pass – regardless of what method of transportation they use.

A unified public transit system, state lawmakers and other stakeholders said Monday, would be more sustainable, reliable and safe.

"The current system was designed in 1983 - over 40 years ago," said Derek Douglas, president of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago.

It would also supplant the RTA to oversee all public transit operations.

Supporters say the creation of a single agency would eliminate overlap and competition for money.

"Now is the time to reinvent public transit," said Illinois state Sen. Ram Villavalam (D-Chicago), chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.

The act was officially introduced Monday, after years of conversations in Springfield. But there's a long way for it to go.

In a news release, lawmakers said the CTA, Pace, and Metra—and the RTA as an oversight agency—compete for funds. Service is also duplicated, and decades-old requirements for integrated fares are ignored.

The new Metropolitan Mobility Authority would be composed of:

  • Three voting directors chosen by the governor with the advisement of the General Assembly
  • Five voting directors chosen by the mayor of Chicago with the advisement of the City Council.
  • Five voting directors chosen by the Cook County Board president with the advisement of the County Board.
  • Five more voting directors, with one each chosen by the chief executives of the DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will County boards with the advisement of said boards.
  • One chair chosen by the directors of the new agency, but not from among them.

There would also be six non-voting board members:

  • The Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary or a designee.
  • The Illinois Toll Highway Authority chair or a designee.
  • An organized labor representative, selected by the governor.
  • A representative of the area business community, selected by the board.
  • A representative for people with disabilities, selected by the board.
  • The chair of the Metropolitan Mobility Agency Citizens Advisory Board.

The Metropolitan Mobility Authority Act is the first part of the Clean and Equitable Transportation Act, with Illinois' goal for the transportation industry 100% carbon-free by 2050.

"We have to do something to get people out of cars, reduce pollution, and maintain the vibrancy of our city," said Kevin Brubaker of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

The big question is how much the proposal would cost. A companion bill would set aside $1.5 billion every year for operational costs, but officials said a restructuring would happen first.

CBS 2 asked state lawmakers behind the proposal if this new proposed agency would address the transit issues CBS 2 has been investigating for years now—safety and reliability.

"I think the idea behind making transit more functional and more usable is getting more and more people to use it, and the more people you get on the trains, all of that stuff follows," said Illinois state Rep. Eva-Dina Delgado (D-Chicago), "Whether it's safety or comfort, the more people that use the service, the safer people feel."

Illinois lawmakers propose merging CTA, Metra. Pace 02:37

As documented by Metra, the RTA was established in 1974 – at a time when the CTA, private bus companies in the suburbs, and commuter rail companies were experiencing major losses. Initially, the main purpose of the RTA was to pay private freight railroad companies to operate commuter rail services.

The Illinois General Assembly reorganized the structure and funding of the RTA in 1983, with operating responsibilities on three separate service boards – the CTA, and what became Metra and Pace.

Pace was created out of several disparate suburban bus agencies, which were consolidated under the Suburban Bus Division of the RTA.

Metra also emerged as a single commuter rail service that took over the routes of what had been several commuter rail lines run by rail companies such as Chicago and North Western, Milwaukee Road, and Illinois Central.

CBS 2 reached out to all four transit agencies for a comment on the proposed legislation. They all said they were still reviewing the proposed legislation they just received, and are always open to working with legislators.

RTA Chair Kirk Dillard said in a statement:

"Public transit operations in the Chicago region are chronically underfunded in comparison to our peer regions – and this lack of support predates the pandemic. 

"We welcome discussion on reforms that strengthen coordination, efficiency, and accountability across the regional transit system. Riders expect and deserve faster, more reliable service, and a safer and more accessible system. But reforms must come with the necessary funding to upgrade service and maximize transit's impact on the region's economy, climate, and access to opportunity for all residents."

This statement was issued by the CTA:

"The CTA's position has been and remains focused on addressing the root of our region's transit challenges: A decades-long lack of sufficient funding.

"The current funding formula must be corrected to better serve those who are most dependent on public transit service. Under the current formula sales tax revenues are divided among the three Service Boards based on geographic boundaries and retail sales, not ridership, service levels and other performance-based criteria. As a result, CTA currently only receives 49 percent of regional public transportation funding, but we provide more than 80 percent of all regional rides.

"CTA knows what its riders want and deserve– it's safe, reliable and efficient services – which we are committed to delivering every day. However, due to decades of insufficient operating funding support, CTA has been and continues operating at a deficit, which clearly has had a disparate impact on our riders, the majority of which identify as ethnic or racial minority.

"To attribute the region's challenges to anything other than a funding shortage is to perpetuate a narrative that will – at best – serve as a distraction to the funding crisis we face. At worst, such a narrative deepens the disparities of opportunity and access for those who are most-transit dependent – low income and minority riders and their communities – and it plagues our region by claiming that it is governance and management issues that are the premier drivers of our challenges."

Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said in a statement, "We look forward to reviewing the data behind the consolidation proposal and engaging in a meaningful discussion with the Legislature and all interested parties about goals and challenges of consolidation."

Pace spokeswoman Maggie Daly Skogsbakken said in a statement:

"We received the proposed legislation today and are reviewing it now. Pace is always open to working with our legislators to advocate for more service in DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, Will, and suburban Cook counties, and implement changes that benefit our passengers across the region.

"What we hope is included is a long-term fiscal solution that doesn't disrupt progress and reflects the real-life service needs of our region. Pace's current governance structure allows us to be nimble and responsive to local needs, and it is feared that a governance consolidation would negatively impact commuters.

"Changes must reflect the actual service needs of our region and address the real problem, which is a historic lack of investment in our transit system, especially in the suburbs."

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