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Transit task force urged to streamline RTA, CTA, Pace, Metra

Gov. PQuinn flanked by co-chairs George A. Ranne Ann Schneider  addresses first meeting Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force

Gov. Pat Quinn, flanked by co-chairs George A. Ranne and Ann Schneider, addresses the first meeting of the Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force in Chicago on Tuesday, September 3, 2013. | Chandler West~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 5, 2013 6:32AM

Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday charged a new task force with trying to convert Chicago area transit into a “world-class” system, while behind the scenes, task force members were given a blow-by-blow on the need to streamline the region’s four different transit agencies.

The 156 pages of “Background Materials’’ given members of Quinn’s new Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force question the wisdom of one board each for the Regional Transportation Authority and the three transit systems it oversees — the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace.

Multiple boards, the materials note, “can make coordination and accountability difficult,’’ have resulted in “lack of capital project coordination” and have produced “inconsistent auditing” among the four agencies.

Quinn said Tuesday during the task force’s first meeting that the four agencies use 16 different appointing authorities to name 47 board members who are paid $10,000 to $50,000 each.

Task force background materials go even further, saying “the rationale for payments to multiple board members should be examined.’’

The materials also note that transit board members are not required to have “background checks, experience or knowledge of transit systems.’’ Once appointed, “it can be difficult to remove a board member even when there is just cause,’’ the informational packet for task force members says.

Quinn conceded that the task force was born out of the “scandals that have been plaguing Metra and its board of directors.’’ Metra has faced a rising tide of criticism since June 21, when its board agreed to award then-CEO Alex Clifford up to $871,000 to leave eight months early — and not talk about it publicly. Since then, five of 11 Metra board members have resigned, and four suburban Cook County commissioners have urged half of the remaining board members to resign.

While conceding that the problems highlighted by the Metra mess needed to be addressed, Quinn also called task force members to the higher duty of devising a road map to a “world-class” Chicago area transit system.

Task force co-chair George Ranney, head of Metropolis Strategies, pushed the notion that the region’s public transit ridership since 1991 has been “stagnant.” while New York City’s ridership has jumped 50 percent over that time.

Task force member Patrick Fitzgerald, former U.S. Attorney here, said later that he “raised my hand when asked” to join the task force out of concern for riders.

“It would be nice to do something to try and prevent the next scandal, rather than read about it,’’ said Fitzgerald, who prosecuted two Illinois governors. “It’s a situation that seems to cry out that it needs a lot of people to help.’’

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