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RTA deal means transit won't grind to halt in Chicago

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a-gates-72.JPGOfficials at the Regional Transportation Authority were warning in recent days that Chicago area mass transit systems were at risk of grinding to a halt early next year.

But that scenario was sent to the back of the bus Wednesday morning when the RTA board unanimously ended a standoff over the allocation of the RTA's so-called discretionary funds.

RTA Executive Director Joseph Costello said be believes the agreement will give the "service boards" - the CTA, Metra and Pace - sufficient time to draw up their own budgets so the the RTA can sign off by the deadline of Dec. 31.

"This puts us on a reasonable track to get our budgets resolved," Costello said.

The vote, which was supposed to come by Sept. 15, tells each service board how much money they will get next year so they can plan their budgets. The RTA never had missed the Sept. 15 deadline before. An earlier deal that looked solid at midnight last Wednesday had fallen apart by 8 a.m. the next morning.

RTA Chairman John S. Gates said the best part of the vote is that no one faction on the 16-person board - city, suburban Cook County or the collar counties - tried to hold out against it. The process was stalled earlier when Chicago board members refused to accept an RTA recommendation for distribution of discretionary funds, arguing they wanted more the the CTA.

The deal also will allow the RTA to resume pushing a $2.5 billion bond sale the agency says is needed to update public transit and catch up on deferred maintenance.

Read the RTA agenda.pdf and ordinance from this morning's special meeting.

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This is a good start, although Metra should have received more funding. Now, the agencies MUST increase fares as much as possible without depressing overall ridership or causing major problems for the "less affluent" riders of the systems. Perhaps sell State of Illinois funded means-tested deep discount farecards at IDHS offices? Provided we don't have another Blago style "free CTA for Sam Zell at the CTA's expense" program, noone should complain too loudly.

For the rest of us working Joes, we need a reliable way to get to work, shop, and play that we can trust and won't kill us. If you haven't been charging enough, be honest! We NEED Metra in Morrris, Dekalb, and Rockford! We NEED the elimination of maintenance and signal slow zones on the L. For that matter, we need the L to get outside of Cook County again! (The system USED to go to Aurora, Elgin, and Milwaukee.) We NEED single L train express between Midway and Ohare (including a profitable pallet based transfer of baggage and air freiight.) We NEED to keep needful CTA and Pace busses to tie the systems together! But to do this, we need to improve the farebox recovery rate for the CTA and Pace busses, which are still below forty-five percent when seperated from L and Metra. While the farebox recovery rates for Metra and the L are better, we riders can pay a LITTLE more to maintain and improve the system.

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