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RTA proposes merging transit agencies’ planning departments

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Sun-Times Library

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Updated: October 4, 2013 6:19AM

As Gov. Pat Quinn’s new transit task force meets for the first time Tuesday amid rising questions about Metra and calls for a transit shakeup, the Regional Transit Authority is proposing to merge the planning departments of the area’s transit agencies into a single planning body.

“These planners often operate in silos that result in inefficiencies, including lack of communication and competition for funds, all of which diminish the shared goal of optimal regional accessibility,” RTA chairman John Gates wrote in a memo dated Sept. 3. The memo, obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, was to his own board and to the heads of the city and surrounding counties. He estimated that the combined 100 planners of the RTA, Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, Pace and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning cost the region up to $20 million.

Gates cited planning snafus such as “overpriced joint” fares when the CTA began reconstructing the Red Line without considering Pace riders who use the 95th Street station or parallel Metra service in asking the General Assembly to legislate the consolidation under the RTA, CMAP or one of the other agencies.

Gates was not available Monday, but RTA executive director Joe Costello said lawmakers should “give us a mandate to work together like this. That’s not to say we couldn’t get in a room and decide to do it. That hasn’t happened, frankly.”

An RTA spokeswoman said remaining details had yet to be hammered out, such as how much money could be saved and the logistics of merging departments of agencies in separate headquarters. Pace, for example, is in Arlington Heights, about 20 miles outside Chicago’s Loop and the other agencies.

CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase asked to see the memo, then declined to comment. Metra spokesman Michael Gillis also declined to comment.

Quinn’s 15-member Northeastern Public Transit Task Force will convene at 1 p.m. Tuesday in Room N502 of the Bilandic Building, 160 N. LaSalle Street. Comments from the public will be accepted.

Quinn has charged the group, which includes former corruption-busting U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, with evaluating whether the Regional Transit Authority and the three agencies it oversees — the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace — should be “reorganized, streamlined or restructured” to “ensure greater efficiency, accountability, coordination and transparency.”

The task force was created in the wake of what Quinn called “another scandal” at Metra. The suburban rail agency has faced a rising tide of criticism since its board gave ex-CEO Alex Clifford a 26-month, up to $871,000 farewell handshake in exchange for leaving eight months early and keeping mum about it — except before investigative agencies.

RTA Chairman John Gates Jr. has said the Metra controversy proves the RTA needs more oversight powers, while Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Bill Daley wants to eliminate the RTA “as we know it’’ for dropping the ball in overseeing Metra. Meanwhile, State Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo) favors replacing the entire Metra board and installing an “emergency manager.’’

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