Blue Line CTA Train, Addison

Testimony

Kevin Brubaker

Chicagoland needs a clear plan to solve the transit challenges ahead

From reliability and ridership to safety and staffing, we need clear steps to reach our regional goals, but today’s approved plan provides mostly platitudes

Imagine if a loved one declared “I’m going to get stronger and healthier this year.” You’d probably say something encouraging but doubt their ability to achieve it.

Imagine instead if they said, “I’m seeing a personal trainer twice a week, I’m going to bike to work three times a month, and I’m limiting myself to 2 drinks per week.” You’d genuinely congratulate them on their path toward health and fitness. And you could check in with them on whether they were meeting their commitments.

Today, Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) approved a strategic plan that sounds more like the former than the latter. Entitled “Transit is the Answer” the plan lays out worthy goals, including sustainability, accessibility, and fiscal responsibility. But when it comes to specific, measurable steps toward those goals the plan is woefully absent.

Here are a couple of examples:

Chicagoland’s three transit agencies are mostly financially disconnected from one another, despite their overlapping districts and complimentary service potential. If riders cannot easily and affordably transfer between CTA, Metra, and Pace lines on the same transit card, they are less likely to ride or reach their destination efficiently. Fare integration is an issue that has plagued the region for decades. RTA’s plan merely assures readers that “the agencies are participating in a joint effort led by Cook County in 2022-2023 to further analyze fare integration.”

Similarly, we’ve known for two years that the region’s transit system faces a fiscal cliff when federal COVID funds run out. With the rise in work-from-home options, the public’s transportation needs have shifted, and our transit agencies will need to shift too. But instead of providing a plan to solve that problem, this is merely a plan to plan a solution.

Contrast these vague commitments with the specific language in Metra’s strategic plan concerning racial equity: “Metra [will]…be participating in the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) Racial Equity Pilot Program to test our existing policies, programs, and practices to ensure racial equity. We’ll ultimately hold leadership accountable for our equity strategy and DEI results by linking pay increases to our performance in these areas.” Specificity is possible.

ELPC joined a coalition of local groups calling for better detail from RTA in a letter sent last month, including the Active Transportation Alliance, Access Living, Elevated Chicago, Equiticity, High Speed Rail Alliance, Illinois Environmental Council, and Metropolitan Planning Council. “While we support the plan’s goals,” we noted in the joint letter, “we are disappointed that the plan lacks necessary specificity on how those goals will be achieved. It leaves both the agencies without a roadmap and the public without a mechanism to hold them accountable.”

Read the full letter here

At today’s RTA board meeting, ELPC joined the Metropolitan Planning Council, Commuters Take Action, and 40th ward Alderman Vazquez in reiterating our call for specificity and clear benchmarks for success. But our pleas went unanswered as the plan sailed through board approval without any additional detail.

RTA is right: transit IS the answer. Chicago cannot prosper and the region cannot meet its climate goals without robust transit. If only we had a plan with specific, measurable actions by which we would have it.

Kevin Brubaker,

Deputy Director

Kevin Brubaker is the deputy director of ELPC, with chief financial management and organizational administrative responsibilities, and leads the organization's transportation work.

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