Regional Transportation Authority (Illinois)
The RTA logo
|Locale||Chicago metropolitan area|
|Transit type||Commuter rail, bus, rapid transit|
|Daily ridership||2 million|
|Chief executive||Leanne P. Redden|
|Number of vehicles||5,234 bus and rail cars plus 694 vanpool vehicles|
|System length||7,200 mi (11,587.28 km)|
The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) is the financial and oversight body for the three transit agencies in northeastern Illinois; the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra, and Pace, which are called Service Boards in the RTA Act. RTA serves Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties.
The RTA Board consists of 16 directors, with 5 appointed by the Mayor of Chicago, 4 by the members of the Cook County Board elected outside of Chicago, one by the Cook County Board President, and one each by the County Board Chairman of the five collar counties. The Chairman of the RTA Board is the 16th member, and is appointed with the concurrence of 11 of the other RTA Board members, including at least 2 each from Chicago, suburban Cook County, and the collar counties, respectively. The chief executive officer is the executive director, who is appointed by the Chairman with the concurrence of 11 of the other directors.
The RTA system provides nearly 2 million rides per day, making it the third largest public transportation system in North America. The RTA provides several services to the public, including the RTA Travel Information line at 836-7000 from all Chicago area area codes, an automated Trip Planner, and "try transit" advertising.
RTA was created after a referendum in 1974. In 1973, CTA had instituted its first major service cuts, and several suburban bus companies, including Evanston Bus Company and Glenview Bus Company had ceased operations, forcing Evanston to make arrangements with CTA and Wilmette to start a municipal service. The Rock Island and Milwaukee Road were already facing financial distress, which would lead to their eventual bankruptcy, and the Illinois Central was petitioning the Interstate Commerce Commission to increase commuter fares, on the basis that the cost of operating its commuter train system was a burden on interstate commerce. While several suburbs had organized Mass Transit Districts to purchase equipment for the carriers with federal financial assistance, the Rock Island was still operating old equipment that it could not replace. In an attempt to deal with these problems in the six-county area, the RTA was established, with some taxing powers, to provide financial support through grants to the CTA and suburban mass transit districts, and purchase of service agreements with the private bus and rail operators.
In 1983, after a financial crisis, and the RTA taking over several private bus companies and the Rock Island and Milwaukee Road lines, the RTA Act was amended to create the Suburban Bus Division, now known as Pace, and the Commuter Rail Division, now known as Metra. RTA's role then changed, so that it is now responsible for reviewing the operating and capital plans and expenditures of the Service Boards, developing an annual budget and program as well as a five-year plan, and distributing sales tax receipts to the Service Boards, in accordance with a statutory formula. However, RTA no longer provides service directly, as the Service Boards have the authority to determine the level, nature, and kind of public transportation to be provided,  and to establish fares. Originally, RTA entered into purchase of service agreements with carriers, but the 1983 amendment gives the Service Boards the power to enter into those agreements with transportation agencies.
The 1983 legislation also imposed the requirements that the level of fares must be sufficient, in the aggregate, to equal 50 percent of the cost of providing transportation, and that the RTA Board inform each Service Board, as part of the budget process, of its required recovery ratio for the next fiscal year.
2004-2007 funding debate and 2008 legislation
In 2004, the CTA, projecting a $55 million funding shortfall in its 2005 budget, called for a "long term funding solution," involving a change to the sales tax distribution formula in the RTA Act. In response, the Illinois General Assembly appropriated $54 million to cover the cost of CTA's paratransit service for 2005. An amendment to the RTA Act made the RTA responsible for the funding, financial review and oversight of all ADA paratransit services, effective July 1, 2005, and transferred responsibility for operating or providing for the operation of paratransit service to Pace starting July 1, 2006, thereby relieving the CTA of that responsibility. The General Assembly also directed the Illinois Auditor General to audit the RTA and the Service Boards, as part of its review of the funding issue. The Auditor General's preliminary report, while agreeing that public funding was insufficient to support the level of transit services, said that the legislature must address other issues, including underfunded pensions, high salaries, absenteeism, and the lack of strong, centralized planning, resulting in several of the service boards competing for customers in the same areas, the Auditor General calling for "an end to the transit agencies fighting each other for customers, routes and federal funding for pet projects that may not fit into an overall regional transit plan."
The RTA approved 2007 Service Board budgets premised on the assumption that "a new funding source would be identified in 2007 to meet the funding requirements of [the] budget." Nonetheless, the CTA budget recognized, "Without this new funding source, CTA will be forced to cut service." With no legislative action by August, 2007, CTA and Pace announced proposals for service cuts, popularly known as "Doomsday Plans," to be implemented September 16. The September plans were postponed when the Governor proposed advancing 2008 state subsidies. A new Doomsday date was set for November 4, but that was avoided when the Governor engineered a transfer of capital funds. Again, the legislature having failed to pass a transit bill, the three service boards proposed 2008 budgets that assumed no new funding and postulated service cuts by CTA and Pace, and the deferral of capital projects by Metra, as well as fare increases by all three agencies.
The barriers to 2007 passage of a bill were the requirement that a 3/5ths supermajority of the legislators was needed to pass a bill after May 31 to be immediately effective, the Governor had threatened to veto a bill that included a sales tax increase, and many legislators tied a transit bill to a capital plan and a casino bill to fund that capital plan. However, with a new Doomsday deadline of January 20, 2008 approaching, the Governor called on the legislature to pass some bill, and he would "improve it," presumably using the amendatory veto. The Legislature passed HB656 on January 10, to which the Governor affixed an amendatory veto allowing senior citizens to ride all transit systems in the state for free. Although various media reports expressed concern that the legislation could not receive the votes to sustain it after it was returned with the amendment, the amendatory veto was accepted and the legislation passed on January 17, 2008.
The highlights of the 2008 amendments to the RTA Act include:
- The RTA sales tax was increased to 1.25% in Cook County, and 0.75% in the collar counties (from 1% and 0.25%, respectively), but one-third of the sales tax collected in the collar counties (i.e. 0.25%) is distributed directly to the counties and the county boards may use that money for transportation or public safety purposes.
- A new distribution of revenues is prescribed, essentially leaving the distribution of the sales taxes collected at the old rates as is (by references to "85% of 80% of the receipts from those taxes collected within the City of Chicago" and the like) and then, after certain funds described below are set aside, the remainder is allocated 48% to CTA, 39% to Metra and 13% to Pace.
- The Act requires that the RTA establish an Innovation, Coordination, and Enhancement Fund, an ADA Paratransit Fund, and a Suburban Community Mobility Fund.
- The Act calls for the implementation of an Interstate 55 Bus Rapid Transit project and allocates money for programs to enhance access to job markets for residents in south suburban Cook County.
- Upon the vote of 9 Directors of the RTA, the Executive Director may intervene in a dispute among service boards or transportation agencies.
- On the vote of 12 Directors, the RTA may take over an alternatives analysis and preliminary environmental assessment of a project where multiple Service Boards or transportation agencies are potential service providers.
- The RTA must establish Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Contracting and Equal Employment Opportunity Programs.
- The RTA and Metra boards were reapportioned, effective April 1, 2008, with the most significant changes being that the chair of the CTA may no longer be on the RTA board, and the President of the Cook County Board was given an appointment to the RTA and Metra boards, respectively.
In addition, the legislation amended various other laws to deal with underfunding of the CTA Retirement Plan, and authorized the Chicago City Council to raise the real estate transfer tax for the sole benefit of the CTA, which it did.
Since the 2008 changes, there have been several proposals to reform the region's transit agencies more dramatically. In the wake of Metra's 2013 patronage scandal, state senators Daniel Biss and Terry Link introduced a bill to merge the RTA with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. At the same time, Governor Pat Quinn convened the Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force to study potential reforms - this group concluded that Metra, the CTA, and Pace should be consolidated into one agency. (Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel opposed consolidation as reducing accountable to voters.) In 2014 a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development also recommended combining Metra, the CTA, and Pace to improve coordination.
- 70 ILCS 3615/1.03. The RTA Act may be found at the Illinois General Assembly site.
- 70 ILCS 3615/3.01, effective April 1, 2008. See also http://www.rtachicago.com/aboutrta/boarddirectors.asp.
- 70 ILCS 3615/2.14.
- Troy Clampit. "404 Error". rtachicago.com.
- 70 ILCS 3615/2.07.
- Bill Vandervoort, Significant Dates in CTA Route History.
A paper by Ian Savage of the Department of Economics and the Transportation Center, Northwestern University, Management objectives and the causes of mass transit deficits (November, 2002), p. 15, outlines some of the reasons for the CTA's loss of profitability during this period.
- See also, Krambles and Peterson, CTA at 45: A History of the First 45 Years of the Chicago Transit Authority (1993), pp. 36 to 38. ISBN 0-9637965-4-2.
- Savage, pp. 16-17, attributes the problem to the unconstrained demand for subsidies, and the RTA's loss of financial viability due to unreliable taxing authority.
Krambles, p. 38, also notes unspecified political problems; Chicago-l.org describes some of them.
The extent of the crisis is partially described in two court cases reflecting the RTA's inability to meet obligations to suburban carriers: Regional Transportation Authority v. Burlington Northern Inc., 100 Ill.App.3d 779, 426 N.E.2d 1143, 55 Ill.Dec. 818 (1st Dist., 1981) and Regional Transportation Authority v. Illinois Commerce Commission, 118 Ill.App.3d 685, 455 N.E.2d 172, 74 Ill.Dec. 142 (1st Dist., 1983).
Some contemporaneous reports are also contained in the New York Times transit system news topics.
- 70 ILCS 3615/3A.01.
- 70 ILCS 3615/3B.01.
- 70 ILCS 3615/2.01(b).
- 70 ILCS 3615/4.01(a).
- 70 ILCS 3615/2.01(c).
- The 1983-2007 formula was contained in 70 ILCS 3615/4.01(d).
- 70 ILCS 3615/2.01(a).
- 70 ILCS 3615/2.04.
- 70 ILCS 3615/2.02.
- 70 ILCS 3615/4.01(b)(i), subject to some exceptions for costs of security and the like.
- 70 ILCS 3615/4.11(a).
Savage, p. 17, attributes this condition to the need to prevent the continuation of the trend of the 1970s.
- See keepchicagolandmoving.com, a CTA web site.
- Announcement at juliehamos.org.
- 70 ILCS 3615/2.30, as added by HB1663, 94th General Assembly.
70 ILCS 3615/4.01(b)(ii) establishes a recovery ratio for paratransit service.
- HR0479, 94th General Assembly for the audit of CTA; HR0650, 94th General Assembly for RTA, Metra, and Pace.
- "Audit:Overhaul the RTA". Chicago Tribune. February 23, 2007.
- CTA. "President's 2007 Budget Recommendations" (PDF).
Similarly the Pace 2007 Suburban Service Budget stated that its budget was balanced using "new transit funds anticipated to be realized through the Region’s Moving Beyond Congestion initiative."
The Metra Budget stated: "We have been advised by the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) to prepare a 2007 budget that anticipates additional operations funding from the state. Although such funding is essential, we have no guarantee that it will be forthcoming." Metra. "2007 Budget Book" (PDF).
- CTA. "President's 2007 Budget Recommendations" (PDF).
- "Time Running Out For CTA Bailout Plan". CBS 2 Chicago. September 1, 2007.
"September 16 Start Date for CTA Service Reductions and Higher Fares" (Press release). CTA. September 9, 2007.
- "Source: Governor Will Help CTA Dodge Doomsday". CBS 2 Chicago. September 11, 2007.
"CTA Statement on Postponing Service Reductions and Fare Increases" (Press release). CTA. September 14, 2007.
- "CTA Postpones Service Cuts, Fare Increases and Employee Layoffs Scheduled for November 4" (Press release). CTA. November 2, 2007.
- CTA. "President's 2008 Budget Recommendations" (PDF).
Pace. "Pace 2008 Final Budget Documents" (PDF).
Metra. "Preliminary 2008 Metra Program and Budget" (PDF).
- Illinois Constitution, Article 4 Section 10.
- "Lawmakers think transit bail-out might not come". ABC 7 News. December 26, 2007.
- "Madigan releases gaming proposal". ABC 7 News. December 11, 2007.
- "Gov again urges lawmakers to pass transit plan". ABC 7 News. January 7, 2008.
- The amendatory veto is authorized by Illinois Constitution Article 4 Section 9.
- "Bill Status of HB0656, 95th General Assembly". Illinois General Assembly. Retrieved 2008-01-18.
- "Governor Amendatory Veto Message". Illinois General Assembly. Retrieved 2008-01-18.
- "Illinois governor defends transit amendment". ABC 7 News. January 14, 2008.
- 70 ILCS 3615/4.03.
- 70 ILCS 3615/4.03.3.
- 70 ILCS 3615/2.01c.
- 70 ILCS 3615/2.01d.
- 70 ILCS 3615/2.01e.
- 70 ILCS 3615/2.09.
- 70 ILCS 3615/2.12b.
- 70 ILCS 3615/2.01a.
- 70 ILCS 3615/2.31.
- 70 ILCS 3615/3.01.
- 70 ILCS 3615/3B.02.
- e.g., 40 ILCS 5/22-101.
- 65 ILCS 5/8-3-19.
- "Drama Between Daley, Aldermen Over Tax Plan". CBS 2 Chicago. February 7, 2008.
- "Bill would merge Chicago transportation, planning agencies". tribunedigital-chicagotribune.
- "NEIL Public Transit Task Force". illinois.gov.
- Marni Pyke. "Task force: Get rid of RTA, merge Metra, CTA and Pace". Daily Herald.
- "Final State Task Force Report Dives Into Transit Reform Details - Streetsblog Chicago". streetsblog.org.
- "Task force ponders regional transit board; city officials want it derailed". Chicago. 19 April 2014.
- "International Study Finds Chicago Public Transit Lacking, Dysfunctional". Chicagoist.