Group calls for transit agency funding formula reform

Greg Hafkin

Regional transit agencies should work together to prevent service cuts, local transit advocates said Tuesday.

Nine community members attended Evanston’s Transportation Future’s meeting Tuesday night at Evanston Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave. Many of them said the formula by which funds are allocated to transit providers is flawed.

“The issue here is how to revise the formula to give less money to Metra, who bring executives to offices from the outlying suburbs, and give it to the (Chicago Transit Authority), who need it,” said Evanston’s Transportation Future member Alex Sproul.

Funding for transit is based on retail sales tax revenues and is allocated separately to Metra, CTA and Pace. As retail growth has shifted to the suburbs, Metra has received more money and CTA has received less, said Rick Martin, one of the group’s organizers.

Funds should be allocated on the basis of ridership rather than tax revenue, Sproul said, and the Illinois General Assembly ought to increase total funding to all Chicago area transit agencies.

Members of the group also suggested a unified leadership plan for regional transit.

“Until you get somebody in charge over the three agencies who has power, you’re going to have these three agencies fighting over money,” said Gladys Bryer, a member of Evanston’s Transportation Future.

On the other hand, unification might have unwanted results, Sproul said.

“I think of the possibility that we might consolidate these agencies and end up with collar counties running them,” Sproul said.

Increased Metra funding could lead to uncontrolled growth in the suburbs, Bryer said. Residents criticized Metra for extending rail service to the far south and west suburbs of Chicago.

“If we’re talking about the big issue, we ought to mention the environmental and urban sprawl issues,” Bryer said.

But attendees stressed that Evanston would not suffer much from proposed CTA cuts, which will go into effect next year if the agency does not receive more money from the Illinois General Assembly.

“Evanston has escaped largely unscathed. The only thing that’s really being eliminated is Saturday service on route 93,” said group member Peter Nicholson. Nicholson downplayed the importance of proposed cuts to overnight service on CTA’s Red and Purple lines, saying the services are scarcely used at those hours.

In other matters, the group praised Pace for recommending the introduction of bus service from the Davis El station to O’Hare International Airport and Schaumburg, Ill.

Members said the O’Hare route is largely a result of their efforts in lobbying Pace. But they expressed dismay at Pace’s decision not to introduce route 211, which would have run from downtown Evanston to the Kimball Brown Line station in Chicago.

The bulk of the meeting, however, focused on the CTA and residents said it will have to jump over many hurdles to reform the funding structure for transit.

“This issue is not going to be fixed because of (the Regional Transit Authority’s) political clout in the suburbs,” Martin said.

Reach Greg Hafkin at [email protected]