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RTA seeks consolidation of some services between CTA, Metra, Pace

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Updated: July 3, 2012 11:43AM

Ever see a Pace bus pass you by while you’re waiting for a CTA bus?

The Regional Transportation Authority calls that a redundant service route and an example of just one way that combining parts of the CTA, Metra and Pace could save taxpayers $150 million a year.

Streamlining service between CTA and Pace buses could save up to $50 million of that total, the RTA says.

The ideas are detailed in a memo written by RTA Chairman John Gates and addressed to RTA board members. The memo also was sent to the CEOs of Metra, Pace and the CTA on Friday.

Combining purchasing, personnel, marketing and maintenance departments will save $100 million a year, Gates wrote in the memo.

“There is a need to make this a priority to more quickly allow for interagency travel and realize increased taxpayer savings,” the memo said.

Each agency has its own executive staff, administrative personnel and headquarters. Gates is asking to consolidate services and contracts, such as lobbying and legal work. He’s also urging the agencies to combine maintenance facilities, warehouses and contracts for fuel services.

“In this year’s budget process the RTA will demand more information on streamlining and maximizing resources,” Gates’ memo said. “I plan to ask each service board to provide the specific steps they are taking to make these cost-saving initiatives a reality.”

And he wants CTA President Forrest Claypool at the RTA Board meeting Wednesday to hear his views.

Universal fare card on way?

Among the cost-saving ideas is fare coordination, which the CTA and Metra have been discussing for months. But the CTA says it’s already doing something similar with Pace: the new Open Fare system, which they call the “gateway to a universal fare card.”

And the CTA already has agreed to restructure overlapping bus service, according to CTA spokeswoman Molly Sullivan.

Also, the three agencies have renewed the Link Up pass, the only fare instrument that works for all three agencies. It’s the closest thing to a universal pass that Chicago area transit has. It’s accepted at all times by Pace and during rush hours by the CTA. Pace said there were about 220,000 rides by Link Up passholders last year.

“The transit agencies that actually deliver service each day are working together more closely than ever to better serve their customers,” Sullivan said.

That also includes a joint purchasing agreement between the CTA and Metra for common supplies such as spikes, plates and other track components, Sullivan said.

And as for getting rid of those high-paying administrative positions? The CTA says senior-level position cuts and management initiatives were projected to slash $117 million from the $277 million budget deficit.

Blast from the past

In June 1992, RTA Chairman Gayle Franzen began his campaign to combine his agency and the three agencies into a single transit board: a superagency.

It didn’t work. Few legislators expressed support, while Metra and Pace said it was a bad idea. The CTA at first said it would be difficult, then called the idea “botched.”

So what was the problem? Suburban leaders feared consolidation would mean their dollars would be going to city services; while city leaders thought their money would be filtered to the suburbs. Another problem: A partisan struggle for control over the contracts and jobs.

By November 1992, Franzen dumped his own idea, saying it created far too much distrust among the agencies.

The first idea of a centralized superagency came in 1973, at the time of a mass transit financial crisis. That’s when the RTA was created.

Duplicative costs ‘riddle system’

The RTA says a 2007 audit of the transit agencies found “duplicative” administration costs, redundant service routes and inefficient use of resources that “riddle our system.”

And in 2008, the RTA began to research coordination and fairness in spending for the agencies.

Ultimately, Gates says he wants the three agencies to pick up the pace on coordination to save taxpayers’ money.

“Because taxpayers and customers suffer when these inefficiencies go unchecked, the RTA has worked tirelessly for several years to identify opportunities for system-wide improvements,” Gates wrote in the memo. “Unfortunately, though we have presented plans to eliminate the inefficiencies identified in the 2007 audit and identified other opportunities to streamline operations and maximize resources, the service boards have not implemented any major joint steps toward this end.”

Pace spokesman Patrick Wilmot said the RTA held several meetings with senior-level management last year about consolidating services, but “no specifics” were laid out.

Room for innovation?

The battle over money and consolidation might be leaving something out: innovation.

“There’s still the battle of the turf that crops up about the new Pace Express bus services, how those can be lengthened to create a better-coordinated bus system for the city and suburbs,” said Joseph Schwieterman, a transportation expert at DePaul University. “And that’s been a hard battle because Pace has had difficulties fighting its case for express bus routes when it comes to” sharing routes with Metra.

There’s a barrier between the agencies, he said. And breaking that barrier will benefit customers.

“In this region you have such limited Metra service on Sunday. . . . If we could just bring some energy to this process, have more freedom to use Pace, Metra and the CTA seamlessly, without any one agency looking over the other shoulder, the region would be better off.”

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