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U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski Pushes Shakeup of Transit Boards

U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-3rd) is endorsing a shakeup of the region’s transit agencies, saying a new transit taskforce should consider consolidating — or eliminating — boards.

“The time for change locally is now,” Lipinski, a member of the Congressional Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, writes in a a letter to the cochairs of Gov. Pat Quinn’s new Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Taskforce.

Quinn last Thursday announced 15 members of the new taskforce, including former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, and charged them with rethinking the organization of Metra, the Chicago Transit Authority, Pace and the Regional Transit Authority which oversees the finances of the three other agencies.

The four transit agencies, between them, have 47 board seats and eight vacancies, with Metra whittled down to only six of 11 members in the wake of the tumult following the up to $718,000 buyout of Metra CEO Alex Clifford.

Lipinski writes that he is “concerned” not only about a lack of leadership at Metra, but that “these leadership issues could have potentially disastrous consequences” as Illinois fights for federal transportation reauthorization dollars.

In some tough talk, Lipinski contends “the existing governance structure of our region’s transit agencies is not serving taxpayers.” Not only have there been “issues” with management but “the existing transit board structure itself is problematic. There is redundancy, waste, lack of coordination, and too often little or indirect accountability,” Lipinski writes in a letter dated Monday and released Tuesday.

He goes on to say “The time for change locally is now” and then urges the taskforce to “consider all viable options to improve efficiency, including board consolidation and/or elimination.”

In response, Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said the governor has asked the task force to start from scratch in evaluating the four transit agencies in the hope of preventing the “scandals of the past.” In an email, Anderson wrote:

“We agree that everything should be on the table and that’s exactly why Governor Quinn established the Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force to issue recommendations for reform. This independent panel will review and propose ways to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse and streamline operations to ensure improved transit service. They will issue initial recommendations prior to the veto session and a final report prior to the 2014 spring session.

“The good news for taxpayers is that momentum is building for comprehensive reform, which as the governor has made clear is what is needed to restore trust in our transit system. The repeated scandals of the past decade prove that the status quo is not working.”

See Lipinski letter to transit task force here:

Lipinski Letter to Transit Task Force, Aug. 19, 2013