RTA Board Member Carole Brown Presents Choice for RTA Board: Maintain or Cut Service?
At today's Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) Board meeting, Carole Brown, Chicago Transit Board Chairman and RTA Board member, introduced an amendment to the RTA's proposed funding marks for public transit for 2005. The amendment challenges the RTA Board to fund public transit so that CTA, Metra and Pace can maintain or improve current levels of service and avoid dramatic service cuts.
Ms. Brown's amendment, which was strongly supported by four other RTA Board members, is designed to replace the funding marks prepared by RTA staff that provide no new operating funds for CTA or Pace in 2005. If approved by the RTA Board, Ms. Brown's amendment not only preserves the current service levels for CTA, Metra and Pace, protects capital projects currently underway throughout the region, supports a universal farecard and allows the service boards to meet the RTA's required recovery ratio ? it also provides a clear target for members of the General Assembly as they review how transportation is funded in Northeastern Illinois.
"I am compelled to offer this amendment because the funding proposal prepared by RTA staff would do irreparable harm not just to CTA, but to Pace, Metra, the RTA, and to the economy of our entire region. RTA staff's proposed marks fail to address the structural funding deficit that has built up since 1983 ? the last time the General Assembly weighed in on transit funding," explained Ms. Brown. ?RTA staff propose to cannibalize capital funds to pay for operations ? a financially unsound strategy that will imperil major capital projects that have strong, bipartisan support from Illinois? Congressional delegation. I appreciate the fact that the RTA recognizes the need for additional operating funds and have done all they can given the way the funding formula currently exists. The structural problem with the funding formula can only be fixed by the General Assembly."
Diverting these capital funds as RTA staff proposed would reverse the RTA Board's previous support for important security upgrades, Howard Station reconstruction, Loop signal upgrades and repairs to the Purple Line viaducts in Evanston.
Over 90 percent of CTA's federal capital funding is already committed to projects like the Blue Line Rehabilitation project, the Brown Line Capacity Expansion project, and the reconstruction of the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line. If the RTA breaks these federal grant agreements as they are proposing to do, the CTA could be forced to give up over half a billion dollars in capital funding, as well as damage future opportunities to get additional benefits from any new federal spending bill.
"Although the General Assembly deferred action on regional transportation issues until after the spring 2004 legislative session, RTA's job is to evaluate the need for and the cost of public transportation in the region," explained Ms. Brown. ?I believe the General Assembly wants us to reduce traffic congestion with improved and enhanced service. RTA staff's proposed capital transfer scheme can?t work because the funds aren?t there. My amendment presents a simple choice to the RTA Board ? do you want to maintain our current level of service, or do you want service cuts?"
CTA executives have dedicated a substantial amount of time and effort recently to draw attention to CTA's funding crisis as a result of a seriously flawed funding formula. Since 1985, the inflation-adjusted amount of public funding to operate the region's trains and buses has fallen and CTA has been the hardest hit. Adjusted for inflation, CTA received about $397 million in 2004 for bus and rail operations compared to $491 million in 1985. In response, CTA has cut annual costs by over $100 million. Despite these efforts, in 2005, CTA faces a $75 million operating funding shortfall that is forecast to become a $385 million shortfall by 2014 unless the Illinois General Assembly changes the way public transit is funded.
Added Ms. Brown, "RTA's current level of funding and service is not sustainable. We have a structural deficit and if it is not remedied CTA will be forced to cut transit service resulting in increased congestion as well as hurting the region's economy."
Recognizing that circumstances change over time, Congress re-examines its transportation funding formula every six years. However, Illinois last evaluated how transit is funded in 1983, more than 20 years ago when the regional demand for public transit was quite different than today.
The CTA provides over 80 percent of all transit trips in the six-county region, including nearly half of suburban transit trips, but only receives 59 percent of regional public transit funding. In 1980, CTA received 71 percent of available transit funding. The current transit funding formula is designed around geographic boundaries and retail sales and does not reflect ridership, service levels and other performance-based criteria.
The RTA Board along with RTA staff members are reviewing and evaluating Ms. Brown's amendment and will hold a special meeting at a date to be determined to vote on the proposed amendment. The RTA must provide funding levels for 2005 to the CTA, Pace and Metra by September 15 to allow the agencies the opportunity to prepare 2005 budgets. Each agency prepares a proposed budget that is available to the public for review and comment and must be approved by each agency's governing board. Once the proposed budgets have board approval they are then submitted to the RTA board for approval.
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