The Chicago Region's Transit Future - Metropolitan Planning Council

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The Chicago Region's Transit Future

From L to R: Dorval Carter, CTA President; Leanne Redden, RTA Executive Director; Jim Derwinski, Metra CEO/Executive Director; T.J. Ross, Pace Executive Director; and Audrey Wennink, Director of Transportation at MPC.

On July 31, 2018, MPC hosted the top brass from the region’s transit systems for a rare cross-agency public discussion about the future of transit. The RTA debuted a new video making the case for increased capital funding at the local and state level, and that theme carried through the rest of the conversation.

Below are some of the top takeaways. You can watch a recording of the entire conversation here and check out some of the conversation on Twitter by searching for #ChiTransitFuture.

1. A lack of funding is already having a major impact on transit riders in the Chicago region.

31% of Pace, Metra, and CTA trains and buses are beyond their useful life, and that number is expected to grow at current levels of funding. The RTA estimates that the three agencies have an unmet capital need of $2-3 billion a year for the next decade. According MPC’s analysis of CTA and Metra Twitter data, over half of all CTA ‘L’ delays and nearly two-thirds of Metra delays are attributable to underfunded infrastructure. Think signal problems, switch failures, or mechanical breakdowns.  But when maintenance is properly funded, we see the payoff in reliability. For example, Metra’s switch from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) power on the new Electric District trains drastically reduced mechanical delays. There were only 20 mechanical delays in 2016-2017 on 90,000 train runs.

2. Transit funding is a critical investment in the economic health of the region, not a handout.

People and businesses expect a functioning, reliable multimodal transportation system, yet they must also use their voice to advocate for change. The call to action needs to come from stakeholders—not the transit agencies themselves.

Leanne Redden of RTA speaking at #ChiTransitFuture: “We need other people to tell our story” instead of the transit agencies trying to communicate their funding needs solo. Citizens talking about it will convince state legislators that the needs are real.

— Allison (@Al_Pal99) July 31, 2018

3. If transit wants to stay competitive, it must meet the needs of the future population.

Reliability and speed are critical to retaining riders, and we must maintain and rebuild what we’ve already got. At the same time, we need to invest in new infrastructure and new technology that supports an integrated, multimodal transportation system. Land use and employment patterns have shifted dramatically since our system was first built. More people want to live in the vibrant downtown and reverse commute, and the workforce of tomorrow needs an increased set of options. Transit agencies must adapt to work in partnership with new mobility services like Uber, Lyft and Divvy so that, ultimately, a traveler can plan a multimodal trip using just one app and a single payment method.

The transit agency leaders speaking at #ChiTransitFuture. Good discussion on system needs like fare integration, capital improvements, BRT, and level boarding. Now it’s time to figure out how to turn words into action, Chicago can’t sit around and wait for a handout.

— Brian Hacker (@bri_hack) July 31, 2018

4. An investment in transit is an investment in communities.

“We need to double down” on transit oriented development, says RTA’s Leanne Redden.  CTA’s infill stations at Morgan and Cermak-McCormick Place have sparked major redevelopment.   CTA is now planning improvements at the Cottage Grove Green Line station. The Pace Barrington Road, I-90 express bus station will be bringing a transit orientation to that area.  Joliet is going to finish a bus terminal at the rail station in downtown Joliet.  There are many opportunities for more transit-oriented development in the region, and we need to partner more closely with communities to make that happen.  We can look to other countries for examples of how to fully integrate transit into development, to have stations right inside buildings.  There is also great opportunity to capture the value of transit investment and reinvest that in the system, said Redden.

Let’s talk partnership! Transit is the community anchor. By that very definition transit is community development. Innovation takes money. #ChiTransitFuture

— RTA CHICAGO (@RTA_Chicago) July 31, 2018

5. Innovation

Innovation takes various forms. Transformative transit upgrades such as traffic signal priority for buses, bus rapid transit, fare integration, and universal accessibility improvements (like platform-level boarding for wheelchair users) can happen in our region once we have adequate funding. The other side of the innovation coin is a commitment by stakeholders to lower barriers to riding transit. One example, that if widely adopted has the potential to boost ridership, is pre-tax transit benefits. While other states require all employers of a certain size to offer this relatively low-cost benefit, a surprisingly small number in our region do so. The business community can be a strong ally in advocating for innovative transit and sustainable transportation revenue.


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