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4 Chicago-area transit boards should be condensed to one, similar to NYC: study

Former U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald~Sun-Times

Former U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 18, 2013 7:56AM



A consultant Wednesday recommended that the Chicago area move to a New York City-like transit structure that would replace the RTA, CTA, Metra and Pace boards with one board driven by a “regional” focus rather than parochial concerns.

The result of a $380,000 study by Delcan, a Virginia-based independent international transportation consulting firm, was delivered to both the RTA, which commissioned the study in the first place, and a gubernatorial taskforce that released its own hard-hitting initial findings Wednesday, but no specific interim recommendations.

And, it followed the Regional Transportation Authority board’s approval of next fiscal year’s long-awaited funding allocations to the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace. For two months, insiders say, the allocations have been held up by the kind of Chicago vs. suburbs squabbling Delcan’s recommendation was designed to avoid. A similar holdup in last year’s funding allocation prompted the RTA to hire Delcan to study how other transit agencies divvy up their money and structure their boards.

Initial findings of the Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force released Wednesday provided ammunition for a New York City-like solution recommended by Delcan. The taskforce found that “the present system was created to represent political and geographic constituencies rather than to provide excellent transit service for the whole region.’’

It lamented that “authority, responsibility and accountability for the transit system are highly dispersed.’’ It noted that 16 elected officials appoint 47 members of four different boards.

Delcan, whose largest practice area is mass transit, instead recommended that the four transit boards be replaced with one board that would include gubernatorial appointees. The structure would reduce the number of board members selected by county or other local officials who may feel obligated to put parochial concerns above regional goals, a Delcan official said.

CTA, Pace and Metra could operate as “operating arms or subsidiaries,’’ with their own presidents or executive directors, but no boards, Delcan Vice President Richard Mudge told transit task force members. A similar model is used in New York City and Philadelphia, he said.

The next best alternative, the Delcan report said, would be to keep the current board structure but to give the RTA the authority it needs to carry out its current legislative responsibilities.

“We like an integrated governance, with a single board of directors,’’ Mudge said. “[It] is the easiest way to meet regional goals.’’

Gov. Pat Quinn formed the taskforce amid the tumult that followed the Metra board’s decision to award ex-CEO Alex Clifford an up to 26-month, $871,000 severance deal with only eight months left on his contract. Quinn had said he hoped the taskforce would issue interim recommendations by Oct. 18, in time to influence the upcoming veto session.

However, marquee taskforce member Patrick Fitzgerald, the former U.S. Attorney who prosecuted two Illinois governors, said the taskforce was tackling issues that had been “developing over years’’ and needed more time to get their recommendations right. Therefore, the task force only issued findings, not recommendations Wednesday.

“If we thought there were simple fixes, of course we’d be doing that,’’ Fitzgerald said.

Meanwhile, RTA board members Wednesday finally broke through a partisan logjam that caused them, for a second year, to blow a Sept. 15 deadline for doling out funding to the three transit agencies they oversee.

The dispute was resolved by agreeing, among other things, to allow the RTA to cover the annual debt payments on a $56 million loan it provided to the CTA in 2009. The decision cancelled a resolution passed last month with the help of non-Chicago RTA board members that ordered the CTA to repay the money.

In addition, bickering over the RTA’s discretionary pot of operating funds was resolved by giving 98 percent of next fiscal year’s roughly $190 million to the CTA and 2 percent to Pace.

However, the 2015 and 2016 discretionary splits were left up for grabs. with only an agreement that whatever split is used each year would also be the basis of any surplus funding allocation in those years, RTA officials said.

“Trust me, no one got what they wanted. Everyone is slightly unhappy,’’ one RTA source said. “Nobody went home and popped champagne.’’

Email: rrossi@suntimes.com

Twitter: @rosalindrossi



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