Dear Regional Transit Riders:

On behalf of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) staff and Board of Directors, I would like to take a moment to celebrate the RTA’s accomplishments in 2015 and highlight how they may enhance transit service in 2016 and beyond.  Specifically, the Board and I would like to share how our work has helped move our region toward the goals of the 2013-2018 Regional Transit Strategic Plan, jointly established by CTA, Metra and Pace (also known as the Service Boards) and the RTA.  I want to note the unprecedented spirit of cooperation we all enjoyed this year.  Our concerted and coordinated efforts have certainly contributed to making the riders’ public transportation experiences easier and more comfortable.

The RTA is the unit of local government charged with regional financial and budgetary oversight, funding and transit planning for CTA, Metra and Pace.  2015 has been a year of collaboration between the RTA and the Service Boards and the results of our work show this.  The RTA and Service Boards are more successful than ever in turning plans and investments into benefits for riders.  Our work includes advocating for more capital funding and transit parity for the region’s transit system and improving access to the transit system throughout the region. 

The work of the RTA is critical but it may not always be easy for riders to see. For instance, riders in Chicago Ridge, Midlothian, Oak Forest, Palos Heights, Richton Park and University Park riders may not know the RTA programmed about $1 million to help pay for future improvements such as sidewalks, bus shelters, bicycle racks and pedestrian crosswalks there, to make it easier for residents to use the region’s mass transit system.  Riders in Palatine may not know the RTA funded its community plans to enhance the area surrounding the Palatine Metra station. In Chicago, the RTA’s work on development of Transit Signal Priority is helping make the restoration of the CTA’s Ashland Express and Western Express bus routes possible.  And, the RTA’s work on redeveloping our iconic Union Station will touch as many riders every day as travelers in Midway Airport.

Other RTA successes, tied to the goals of the Strategic Plan, include:

Provide Valuable, Accessible, and Attractive Transportation Options

In 2015, the RTA directly allocated $34 million dollars of Innovation, Coordination and Enhancement (ICE) funds to support various transit improvement projects.  ICE-funded projects implemented in 2015 include the development of the Ventra Mobile Application, extra service to the Blackhawks Rally and other special events, and installation of additional automated signs with real-time CTA and Pace bus arrival information.

The RTA also programmed $880,000 in federal, RTA and local funds through its Community Planning Program to fund eight transit-oriented developments (TODs) and transit improvement projects that will commence in 2016.  Projects range from convening a group of developers to identify development options around the Village of Calumet Park's Metra station to improving transit connections to major employment centers in DuPage County.  The RTA has allocated nearly $20 million in federal, RTA and local funds for 180 projects throughout the region through this program over the last 18 years.

This year marked the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The RTA, along with the Service Boards, participated in the “ADA 25 Chicago” partnership initiative which included the Disability Pride Parade and continuing our commitment to ensuring that riders with disabilities have access to safe and reliable public transportation.

The RTA partnered with the City of Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) to co-locate RTA customer service agents at four DFSS office locations. The move serves to better accommodate riders with disabilities and older adults who currently use RTA's reduced fare and ride free permits. RTA staff oversees the program that provides more than 600,000 qualifying older adults and riders with disabilities with reduced fare and free ride permits. 

The RTA’s Group Transit Orientation program provided 199 presentations to 3,728 customers in 2015 regarding the accessibility of CTA, Metra and Pace buses and trains at agencies that serve people with disabilities and older adults. 

Ensure Financial Viability

The RTA’s credit rating is among the best in the public sector.

In August, the RTA board unanimously approved the 2016 budget funding amounts to be allocated to CTA, Metra and Pace for their operating budgets nearly a month ahead of the statutory deadline and unanimously approved the regional operating budget and capital program on December 17.  The $2.9 billion transit regional operating budget authorizes operations expenses of:

  • CTA: $1.47 billion
  • Metra: $759.8 million
  • Pace: $228 million
  • ADA Paratransit: $174.8 million
  • RTA: $35.2 million

Additionally, a $3.9 billion five-year capital program, for 2016-2020, includes an estimated $872 million in capital expenditures for 2016.  The RTA once again increased funds for the Service Boards by directly programming state authorized ICE funds through the budget process.

For the 19th year in a row, the RTA received the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada Distinguished budget presentation award for its 2015 budget. The award represents the RTA’s long-term commitment to meeting the highest principles of governmental budgeting, satisfying several nationally recognized guidelines for effective budget presentation.

The RTA secured $4.2 million from the federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) program to fund a total of $5.2 million in capital projects through the Access to Transit Improvement Program. These funds will help implement 11 transit-related projects in the region between 2016 and 2020 that will build the transit connections necessary to retain riders and attract new ones.  This is the second round of projects the RTA has funded through this program after being awarded CMAQ funding. The first round of four projects totaled $2 million and those projects are currently, or soon will be, under construction.

Promote a Green, Livable and Prosperous Region

The results from the RTA’s first ever Chicago Area Visitors Survey revealed that visitors view our region’s transit system as a reliable and economical means to travel around our six-county region.

The RTA publishes a robust set of performance reports each year. The Regional Report Card and Sub-Regional Report look at the region’s transit providers’ performance over a five year period.  The RTA also analyzes the performance of the regional system relative to our peer transit regions and operators through two reports each year:  the Regional Peer Review and the Sub-Regional Peer Review. All of these reports can be found at http://www.rtachicago.com/plans-programs/performance-measures.  The regional 2013 Regional Peer Review, released in 2015, reports the performance of the primary transit providers for each of the top ten U.S. metropolitan statistical areas, with the Chicago region reported as an aggregation of data for CTA, Metra, and Pace.

Highlights of the Regional Report include:

  • In 2013, RTA passenger miles traveled exceeded four billion for the third consecutive year, which has only happened four times since 1991.
  • Despite unusually high capital investment in 2013 related to the Red Line reconstruction, Englewood Flyover project, and purchase of transit vehicles, the region still expended less than half of what the New York region expended for capital on a per-resident basis. That’s an improvement. In 2010, Chicago’s per capita capital expenditure was less than one-fifth of New York’s.
  • For three years running, from 2011 to 2013—the last year for which we have data--the RTA region’s system had the lowest operating cost per passenger mile of the systems in the country’s top ten metropolitan regions.
  • From 2009 to 2012, the RTA region’s system ranked first in our peer group for traveling the longest distance in service without experiencing major mechanical failures and we ranked third in 2013.   This, even as 30% of our vehicles are due for replacement.
  • Of our peer regions, the RTA region ranks second highest in fare revenue per passenger trip, behind Washington D.C., which has the highest. (Washington D.C. has a distance-based fare.) New York ranks third for 2012 and 2013.

The 2013 Sub-Regional Peer Review, released in 2015, provides performance results at the individual mode level – urban bus, heavy rail, commuter rail, suburban bus, vanpool, and ADA paratransit – comparing the performance of each individual mode to five similar peers.  Overall, the Chicago transit agencies performed well in comparison to their peers, with special strengths noted across modes in the service efficiency and effectiveness category as well as for service reliability. 

Continue to Advocate For and Be a Trusted Steward of Public Transportation

The RTA led the regional communications effort to discuss concerns about the current budget impasse at the Illinois state level. 

On the federal capital funding front, the RTA was very active and our work paid off.  In April, the RTA stood with transportation leaders and elected officials in the region to express the need for a stronger and more effective regional transportation system during Stand Up 4 Transportation, a national initiative sponsored by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). The initiative urged congress to support consistent long-term federal funding for the nations’ transportation and public transit systems. The Highway Trust Fund was teetering on insolvency last summer and a long-term, sustainable legislation coupled with robust funding was vital to allowing transit agencies to plan for the future.  As a founder and member of Getting America to Work, a national coalition of more than 100 transit agencies, business groups and commuter advocacy organizations, the RTA played a critical role in the support and passage of two federal laws in 2015.

The first, Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act), is a five-year funding bill which includes $61 billion for public transportation nationwide.  This multi-year surface transportation law is critical to our region’s continued success as well as our ability to attempt to address our ongoing state of good repair needs.  It is estimated that the increased levels of funding in this bill could translate to more than $250 million in additional formula funding over a five year period for our region.  The second is the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015, which restored parity between employer-provided public transportation benefits and parking benefits.

The RTA also collaborated with Amtrak, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and transportation leaders from the CTA and Metra, announcing steps in improving Chicago's iconic Union Station, a major regional transportation hub. The RTA Board passed a resolution supporting this work at its August 2015 board meeting, and the RTA will be contributing $1.5 million toward preliminary engineering of 13 projects slated to begin design in 2016. 

This year, the RTA, in conjunction with the Service Boards, launched a multi-year marketing ad campaign, “Ride On.”, to improve public awareness and perception of public transportation and to attract new riders to the system. The “Ride On.” campaign uses humor to play up the sometimes painful realities of driving and parking in our region. Since its launch, the campaign has received two awards, the Silver Telly Award, recognizing local TV and cable commercials in the public service sub category and the MarCom award, receiving the platinum award for the ”Ride On.” television commercials.

The annual “Dump the Pump” initiative that encourages first time and occasional riders to “dump the pump” and leave their cars at home by taking public transportation happily coincided with the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup.  Dump the Pump Day fell on the day of the Blackhawks victory parade and hundreds of thousands of Blackhawk fans used public transportation to attend the victory rally at Soldier Field.

The RTA updated its RTA Mapping and Statistics website (RTAMS.org). The new site offers upgraded design, features and content, and continues to be a powerful transit information tool for riders, elected officials, and area planners among others. RTAMS serves as the regional data warehouse of planning and financial information about the northeastern Illinois public transportation system.

This year, the RTA launched a newly redesigned website to make it easier for visitors to learn about the RTA and our regional transit system.   The agency also launched a blog, Ride On., to replace the monthly e-newsletter, InTransit.  The blog provides a first person perspective on transit in the region, allowing riders to learn more about the RTA’s role and impact on transit in the region.

The Board and I are extremely proud of the work everyone at the RTA is doing and we look forward to finding new and improved ways to help transit riders in our region in 2016 and beyond.