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RTA vows to ‘do our share’ amid $170 million in proposed transit cuts

RTA Chairman Kirk Dillard insisted Thursday that the agency was not trying to do a “sky-is-falling” routine in portraying the dire impact of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed transit cuts and would “do our share” in addressing the state’s fiscal crisis.

Dillard made his comments after board member Anthony Anderson of Chicago said the Regional Transportation Authority was presenting the effect of nearly $170 million in proposed transit cuts as so “disastrous” that it “almost scares you.”

“Let’s not take that slant,” Anderson cautioned after an RTA briefing to board members projected, for example, that the CTA’s massive hit would equal the cost of a year’s worth of service on the Red, Orange and Brown Lines combined.

“Let’s make sure we stay balanced,” Anderson said. “We have to work collaboratively. . . . The state is in fiscal crisis. We all have to do our part.”

On Thursday, the RTA briefed board members on their final number-crunching of Rauner’s proposed budget on the CTA, Metra and Pace. It offered some scenarios to illustrate the theoretical impact of the losses. It wasn’t a pretty picture.

Officials said the total $169.5 million trim to transit — more than the $127 million originally discussed — amounted to:

  • A $130 million “disproportionate” hit to the Chicago Transit Authority, or a 45 percent loss in its state funding. That equals money raised by a 30 percent fare increase or money saved by “eliminating 20 weeks of bus service,” RTA officials said.
  • A a $20.8 million hit to Metra, or a 60 percent loss in state funding. That equals money raised by a 6 percent fare increase, or money saved by eliminating all BNSF service or all Milwaukee West service.
  • A $10 million hit to Pace suburban bus service, or 41 percent trim in its state funding. That equals money saved by eliminating all suburban service for three weeks. Plus Pace’s paratransit service for the disabled faces an $8.5 million hit, or a 15 percent decrease in state funding.
  • RTA executive director Leanne Redden has warned that both service cuts and fare increases are “very likely” if the Rauner budget flies as written.

    After the presentation, Dillard tried to hit the right balance between offering to share the sacrifice and objecting to the size of the sacrifice requested.

    “We’re not trying to do a sky-is-falling thing here,” Dillard told reporters after Thursday’s RTA board meeting. “We’re just trying trying to lay out the numbers on what it means to the . . . [people] that we take to work.”

    Dillard insisted “we’re going to do our share” and “there’s always places to scale back,” although he offered no immediate suggestions. He said the transit agencies have already “sharpened their pencils” and achieved efficiencies.

    Dillard pointed to a new report indicating that Chicago area transit has the lowest operating cost per passenger mile among the country’s 10 largest metro area systems.

    “We’re operating the most efficient railroad and bus system in the nation,” Dillard said.

    Rauner has said he does not want to talk about revenue generators — such as a tax on services that also could be subjected to a RTA sales tax — until “government reform” is addressed. Dillard said he suspected Rauner was talking about reforms in “bigger things, like pension reforms for state workers.”

    A transit task force report last year recommended as a reform that all three transit agencies and their three boards merge into one agency, with one board, with no RTA overseer.

    Asked about that suggestion, Dillard said he didn’t really care what form of governance was used but “the bottom line is our operating costs are the lowest of any system in America, so why would you want to change that form of governance?”

    Mayor Rahm Emanuel warned on Thursday that such a massive hit to CTA operating dollars would “pull the rug out from underneath” CTA station, track and other improvements that have created jobs and spurred economic growth.

    “Finally the CTA is making the type of investments that have been long-sought. They were starved,” Emanuel said.

    “This is not the time for the state of Illinois to undercut not only investment but the all the jobs and economic growth” CTA improvements have wrought, he said.

    Charles Paidock of the advocacy group Citizens Taking Action for Transit Dependent Riders warned Thursday that the Rauner cuts could leave the CTA with “a skeleton of transit service for the rush-hour only, on less frequent and overcrowded vehicles.”

    Said Paidock: “People are not going to choose public transit as their mode of travel if it simply does not go where you have to, or at a time when you want to go.”

    Also Thursday, the RTA agreed to immediately hire Republican insider Nancey Kimme, former  top aid to the late Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, as a lobbyist through July 31 for up to $35,000.