Mend transit board without merger

A state task force recommended March 31 that the Regional Transportation Authority be abolished and that Metra, Pace and the Chicago Transit Authority’s administrations be merged. Although the city’s transit agencies need a swift reality check, a larger agency would only replace one clumsy bureaucracy with another.

The task force highlighted six major problems with the current transit agencies, including rampant corruption, poor coordination, lack of plans to increase ridership, inefficiency, inadequate funding and little infrastructure planning. These areas need to be remedied, but it would be better to work with the existing agencies rather than eliminating them and wasting time and resources building a new one.

Since 1983, the RTA has overseen the budgets and planning for each of the three transit boards, which essentially run themselves while reporting to the RTA, according to the task force document. However, the boards have done a lackluster job of monitoring themselves, seeing as the CTA’s infrastructure and budget are both fragile, Metra’s administration and equipment fail without warning and Pace consistently sees service cuts and rising gas prices. To promote the most efficient use of resources, the RTA should have stricter oversight. The service boards could maintain their autonomy, but the RTA should more efficiently coordinate them to prevent service, funding and staff from overlapping.

Metra, Pace and the CTA should work together to serve Chicagoland, not function as separate units. They do not collaborate well, and the current “every man for himself” attitude drives up prices and strains each agency’s independent resources. The task force report details how rising gasoline prices and increased environmental concerns about carbon emissions have created a push toward increased public transit use, but the current system can barely manage its existing ridership. A new agency would still require heads for each service, which could cut the staff of the current agencies and complicate the systems without guaranteed benefits.

To efficiently serve the city, all three systems need to be upgraded, which will take coordination. But shuffling all the current establishments into one enormous office will take time and resources that could be better spent on improving the infrastructure, which the RTA could do if given greater authority.

The governor’s public transportation task force has raised an important issue: The city’s public transit needs mending and planning to move forward. However, establishing a mega-agency from scratch is not the most efficient or cost-effective way to go about it.