Briefing Report Blasts Chicago-Area Transit Systems

Authors criticize redundancies, lack of oversight

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A briefing book prepared for members of a new commission appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn to study the problems stemming from the recent scandals at Metra is harshly critical of the entire mass transit system in the six county area, suggesting it's woefully outmoded and victimized by turf battles between competing agencies.

"It is clear that the Northeastern Illinois transit system is not functioning effectively," the authors of the report wrote, adding that "oversight of the service boards has been lacking."

Most troubling to taxpayers who may never utilize mass transit, the document suggests the State of Illinois has been throwing good money after bad on the Chicago region's transit system for decades

"The [Regional Transportation Authority] reports that the transit system requires $31.1 billion to achieve a state of good repair," the authors note. "However, the state of Illinois has invested billions of dollars in all of the service boards through its capital bond program. Waste, inefficiency, and scandals undermine the case for directing additional investment into the systems until governance issues are resolved to restore public trust."

Quinn's commission held their first meeting Tuesday. They are to issue recommendations to the governor by mid October.

The document questions the rationale for payments to multiple board members at Metra, Pace, and the CTA, where directors draw salaries varying from $10,000 to $50,000 per year.

"Duplicative structures and competing boards can cause competition for scarce federal and state dollars and legislative issues," it states. "Currently there is no requirement that board members 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 report is critical of what it calls "golden parachutes," a barely-concealed reference to the massive severance package granted to recently-ousted Metra Executive Director Alex Clifford.

"The authors also challenge "hiring of expensive outside firms, and the need to streamline operations so that any savings can be passed along to mass transit riders to make commutes more acceptable." A recent RTA audit revealed that Metra had spent more than $300,000 on outside attorneys and public relations consultants in the aftermath of the Clifford fiasco.

The authors of the report state unequivocally that the area's mass transit system has not adapted to rapidly changing times and that the ridership numbers prove it.

"More residents and businesses have moved to parts of the region that do not have access to public transit," the document states. "Since 1980, commuting from one collar county to another increased by 344 percent, and commuting from Cook County to the collar counties increased by nearly 200 percent. Public transit's share of those commutes has steadily declined."

The report pointedly notes that only 24 percent of the region's jobs can be reached within 90 minutes by public transit.

"Chicago area public transit is operated by three separate agencies," the briefing book notes. "It is not planned, designed, or built as a cohesive regional system."

"Commuters, business travelers, and tourists care little about which system they are riding -- Metra, Pace, or the CTA; they simply want transit that can easily move them around the region. The current system falls short in this regard."

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