February 23, 2022
Chicago Needs Serious Transit Planning
Public transportation is at a crossroads, but RTA is dropping the ball on strategic planning, here’s what the region really needs for a strong, sustainable transit future
Chicago’s transit services are in threatened. Due to COVID, ridership plummeted. Home-to-Loop commuting may never return to its prior level.
But transit has proven more important than ever. Though less people used it during COVID, it has provided the lifeblood of service to essential workers. Transit, in other words, made work-from-home possible by providing transportation services to those who supplied food, medicine, and other services. And as climate change continues to accelerate, fueled by personal cars and trucks, transit is one of the best tools we have to reduce transportation emissions.
While emergency federal funding has postponed the day of reckoning for Chicago’s transit, that day is still coming. Farebox revenue is not sufficient to cover its share of services, and Springfield isn’t eager to fill in the gap.
So, with existential questions on the line, it’s time for the Chicago region to have a serious discussion about public transportation.
- How do we make long-term capital plans when we don’t know what future ridership needs will be?
- How do we ensure that capital investments in electrifying bus services are coordinated between CTA and PACE?
- How do we grow and change transit services to meet the needs of workers outside Chicago’s loop?
- How do we pay for it all?
Unfortunately, the RTA’s long-range planning process is not, at least yet, addressing these pressing questions. Instead, it is conducting focus group-like meetings to determine if transit should “address climate change” or be “financially sustainable” – as though one were possible without the other. The agency is stuck on vague platitudes rather than facing the very real, tangible decisions before us.
ELPC joined a coalition of local organizations calling on RTA for a more substantive and effective planning process that reflects the urgency of the moment. As we stated in the letter, “the public already agrees transit is essential to [Chicagoland’s] well-being, is an important part of our fight against climate change, and necessary for businesses and economic growth. What we need now are serious and specific proposals to maintain those foundational roles transit plays.”