Eliminate RTA board, give governor more power, transit task force says

Written By By ROSALIND ROSSI Transportation Reporter Posted: 04/13/2014, 12:32am

The Regional Transportation Authority board would be eliminated and the governor would get more power over transit appointments under proposals advanced Tuesday to Gov. Pat Quinn’s Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force.

Two models for shaking up how the RTA, the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace are organized were approved by the task force’s “governance working group” and forwarded to the full task force as it nears a Mar. 31 deadline for recommendations.

One governance model would follow New York’s lead and consolidate all four agencies into one regional agency with one board and three operating arms — possibly overseeing the CTA, Metra and Pace.

An outside consultant recommended the New York model, saying it encourages more regionwide planning. Many variations of it are possible, noted Ashish Sen, the working group’s chair. One lawmaker has proposed dividing up the single regional agency into offices overseeing buses, commuter rail, rapid transit and paratransit for the six-county region.

A second model would place oversight of the CTA, Metra and Pace in the hands of a new office within the Illinois Department of Transportation and eliminate the RTA board.

The new office would have the power to withhold funds to force agreement between what has sometimes been bickering agencies, to coordinate regional plans and to implement major capital projects. Funding would be allocated according to a formula that would include performance to eliminate the “endless battle” over RTA discretionary funds that occurs every year between the CTA, Metra and Pace, said Sen, who also sits on the CTA board as a gubernatorial appointee.

The transit office would be headed by what working group member Nick Palmer likened to a “transit tsar.” This salaried executive probably would be appointed by the governor with the consent of the Illinois Senate, although these and other details about the proposal are still a work in progress, Sen said.

The working group rejected two other models–one that would have left all four transit boards intact but strengthened the RTA’s powers, and a second that would have given the CTA, Metra and Pace more autonomy by eliminating the RTA. Group member George Ranney opposed giving IDOT responsibility for transit, but supported the New York model and agreed to send both proposals to the full task force for discussion.

The two recommendations advanced Tuesday have the most chance of generating the most change, said Palmer. “We are setting a starting point for reforming the system,” Palmer sad.

The working group also agreed that the governor should have more appointments to any remaining transit agencies, as the state contributes significant funding to transit. Currently, the governor only appoints three of the CTA’s seven board members, and has no appointment power over RTA, Metra or Pace members.

Quinn established the task force following an uproar over the Metra Board’s decision to give then-Metra CEO Alex Clifford a 26-month buyout worth up to $871,000 with only eight months left on his contract. The governor charged the task force with streamlining the four transit agencies and closing ethical and other loopholes highlighted by the Clifford mess.

Email rrossi@suntimes.com

Twitter @rosalindrossi

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