The Chicago area should consider folding its separate transit boards into a strong, unified agency to escape the often contentious rivalry that exists between the CTA, Metra and Pace, a consultant said Wednesday.
Such a superagency would be similar to transportation agencies in New York City and Philadelphia, said the consultant, who presented his findings to the Regional Transportation Authority and to a task force charged with reforming the transit system after this summer's controversy at Metra.
The main problem with the RTA, the oversight agency for the CTA, Metra and Pace, is that it lacks the power to support the planning and decision-making process that state law intended, said Richard Mudge, vice president for the Vienna, Va.-based transportation consultant Delcan Corp.
"There is a mismatch between the RTA's tools and what the legislature asked the agency to do," Mudge told the agency.
Although the study was paid for by the RTA, Mudge also was invited to address the transit task force created by Gov. Pat Quinn after Metra's board was rocked by the controversy over the awarding of ousted CEO Alex Clifford a severance package potentially worth $817,000.
The task force Wednesday issued an interim report which did not make any recommendations but listed six findings, including that "portions of the transit system have been plagued by scandal and corruption, to the detriment of the system as a whole."
The report also found that the structure of the current transit system has led to "duplication, competition, uncoordinated service and a lack of accountability."
The RTA paid Delcan $383,000 to come up with ways to resolve the long-standing turf wars between the transit agencies, each with its own boards of directors, core riderships and political patrons.
The battling among the agencies has taken center stage at RTA board meetings in recent months with the rivals fighting over how to divvy up state funding. The monthslong dispute was resolved Wednesday with an agreement passed by board members with the exception of DuPage County representative Patrick Durante.
Although the amount of funding was relatively small, the transit agencies and their representatives became "pretty well dug in" during protracted negotiations, according to Chairman John Gates Jr.
The stalemate put the RTA in violation of state law for failing to reach a budget deadline, and threatened to jeopardize mass transit service Dec. 31 if the dispute continued to prevent the agencies from adopting their own budgets and holding public hearings, Gates said.
The Delcan study was intended to address funding disputes among the agencies, officials said.
"The funding formulas are complex, out of date (some rules have been unchanged for 30 years) and rigid," the study found.
The study outlined eight scenarios for revising how the region's transit system is governed and funded. The best approach, Mudge suggested, would be to revise the funding formulas and award money to the transit agencies based on how well they reach performance goals.
A single umbrella agency like New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority offers the "best potential to achieve regional objectives," the study said.
Under this scenario, the CTA, Metra and Pace would become "operating arms or subsidiaries" of this umbrella organization and no longer have their own boards.
The task force report appeared to agree with the Delcan study, pointing out that there is no coordinated, regionwide plan to increase ridership. At the same time, the system of dividing up funding is outdated, and too little money is invested in keeping equipment and infrastructure in good working order, it said.
"It is evident that the northeastern Illinois public transit system is not guided by a strong, clear vision," the task force report said.
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