New report says Chicago area transit agencies have a host of issues

Here are some of the issues facing Chicago area transit agencies according to an Illinois task force:

• The Metra scandal demonstrated that “those responsible for the transit system do not always have the rider’s best interests at heart.” Many transit board members are appointed without background checks and there are no ethics rules or discipline for those guilty of misdeeds, the task force found.

• There are four transit boards with 47 people appointed by 16 elected officials. The system leads to a lack of accountability and “makes it difficult to know who is responsible when the system is not functioning well,” the report stated. Instead of pushing for excellence, boards are more about representing political or geographic constituencies.

• A 2007 Illinois auditor general’s report found duplication and lack of coordination among various transit fiefdoms. That situation hasn’t improved in the past six years, the task force found.

• A coordinated regional transit plan to increase ridership is lacking. Traffic congestion has nearly tripled since 1980 but the percentage of commutes to work using transit have dropped from 18 percent to 13 percent in that time frame.

• The transit system under-serves the region. Only 53 percent of jobs in the six-county area can be reached using transit within 90 minutes, according to one estimate and another projection puts that number at 24 percent.

• Funding formulas encourage turf wars and a “divisiveness that splits the region and creates competition,” the report found.

Sounds like too many agencies with members who represent all sorts of groups (and perhaps not the riders) leading to a system that is not so great.

If the problems are easy to spot, what are some workable solutions? Illinois is known for fragmented government bodies – many levels with lots of groups having access to tax dollars – so this wouldn’t necessarily be easy to change. Are there models from other metropolitan areas that could produce a better mass transit system? What might Chicago area residents get in mass transit if these problems were reduced?

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