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Transportation Committee Meeting - Mayor's Appointment for RTA

The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) is the unit of local government created to oversee finances, secure funding, and to conduct transit planning for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra, and Pace. RTA services the counties of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will. It has been well documented that the northeast region transit agencies are facing a pretty dire fiscal cliff. No solutions are up for a vote yet, but ideas on how to close this gap are circulating in the state. The shortfall by the end of 2025 is expected to hit $730 million. Pandemic funding that bolstered agencies for the past few years is drying up across all governmental agencies including the CTA, RTA agencies and City of Chicago. 

It was with this background that I questioned the mayor’s appointee to the RTA board, Pastor Ira Acree at the Transportation Committee on Thursday. This RTA board position is a $25,000 job that has a five year term. After listening, I had to vote no on the appointment

My first point was to question the appointee of the Mayor on his discussions with the Mayor. The Mayor is allotted several appointments to the RTA Board and has a significant power to bring change to the RTA and need for a regional better transportation system. 

I asked why he had not met with Mayor Johnson on such an important appointment. That he had not, sent a signal about 1) lack of preparation by the administration, 2) lack of concern by the administration and 3) the need for experienced people on the boards who could answer the questions to come about their positions as well the vision for regional transit by the Mayor. There was none. The pastor said had not had a conversation with the Mayor about this appointment. His response was that “he's the leader of a busy City. I have talked with somebody from his staff. I talked with Audrey. I talked but I haven't talked with him about this position. I mean, this is very important but he's got much bigger fish to fry or I would disagree with you.” 

My second question was the issue of the shortfall, “what is your position on the 730 million shortfall for this agency by the end of 2025?” He stated he was unaware of the shortfall, saying that it was the first time he heard about it.

I also further discussed the CMAP study that outlines much of the issues with regional transportation (along with data and studies on the RTA website).  

I followed up with a question on fare integration, (a merging of the agencies fares, that has been discussed for years) and if he has spoken to employees of the CTA and RTA about issues in general. 

Finally, I asked about CTA leadership and if he felt it was time for a change of the leadership of CTA President Dorval Carter. Some of us have publicly called for a change in CTA leadership, but that was not the focus of this appointees process. The CTA has had well documented problems with ridership lows, cleanliness, timeliness, and overall operational and leadership dysfunction going back several years as aldermen have had to fight to get the President of the CTA, Dorval Carter to testify publicly on the state of the CTA. The CTA is not alone in this fiscal and operational state. Public transit systems across the US are looking for change in operations and leadership. 

The appointee in this meeting said it was unfair to grade the CTA leadership and he would withhold judgment. While I understand the need to evaluate and get a sense of the needs of the RTA as a new member of a board, that’s a job that could have easily been done before the appointment process.

There is plenty of reporting, both by agencies and the local media to suggest that important changes to the CTA and RTA must happen soon before the fiscal cliff hits, and before the operations of the entire system degrade any further. This has been built up as more information and data was compiled by riders and the very government agencies the appointee will oversee. 

As I stated in the meeting, Chicagoland has many experts in transit that could do this job; to see that none of them have been considered is alarming.

I don’t expect the appointee to know everything, as the state of affairs within government bodies are constantly changing, but the meeting on Thursday was another glaring example of the lack of seriousness and readiness by the administration. For the Mayor himself not to speak to the appointee and to offer no vision or sense of direction from the 5th floor is damaging to the taxpayers and users of the public transportation systems. I will be voting against the appointee again in the full council vote. 

You can watch the hearing here via the City Clerk website.

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