Transit is Moving Forward in our Region: The RTA Worked Hard for Riders in 2017
December 21, 2017
Dear transit riders,
On behalf of the Regional Transportation Authority staff and Board of Directors, I want to take a moment to celebrate the RTA’s accomplishments in 2017 and highlight how they will enhance transit service in 2018 and beyond. As a daily transit rider, taking CTA and Metra into and around Chicago nearly every day, I know first-hand the region’s achievements and challenges.
It’s no secret that the lack of funding for public transportation has been at the forefront of our issues this past year. Challenging economic times and reduced State funding combined to reduce our budget by close to $100 million dollars. We’re looking at a similar budget gap in 2018. As a result, the RTA and Service Boards had to make some difficult choices. This year, this includes fare increases in the 2018 operating budget.
Even with these challenges, our region has recently reported the lowest operating cost per passenger mile and the highest number of miles between major mechanical failures, measures of cost effectiveness and reliability.
The RTA’s credit rating is among the best in the public sector making it possible for us provide short and long term financing to support a portion of the Service Board’s operating and capital budgets, which directly benefit riders every day. This year, the RTA used our short term borrowing authority to cover late state payments for Service Board operations. The State now owes RTA more than $450 million dollars in repayment for that financing at an annual cost us of about $5 million; that cost is essentially another funding cut as dollars are spent on paying down debt instead of investing in our system. In addition, the State hasn’t passed a capital bill since 2009, leaving the transit region without hundreds of millions of dollars per year of important capital funding. The RTA is doing what we can by leveraging our long term debt and issuing bonds up to our statutory limit of $800 million to provide additional capital funding for CTA, Metra, and Pace projects.
In spite of our regional funding challenges, 2017 has been a year of great collaboration between the RTA and Service Boards to benefit the riders who rely on our robust system to get to and from work, run errands and experience what this great region has to offer. It’s important to note that residents benefit even if they don’t ride our system, as the system attracts jobs and employers and keeps cars off of our already clogged roadways.
The RTA’s Roadmap for Transit Investment: 2018-23 Strategic Plan
This year we worked with our partners to provide a visionary roadmap for transit investment throughout the RTA six-county area that will continue to provide world class public transportation in an environment of changing demographics, limited funding, and new technologies. Next month, the RTA Board of Directors will consider for adoption the Invest in Transit: the 2018-2023 Regional Transit Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan provides an opportunity to talk about these pressing issues with stakeholders throughout the region and to implement solutions. I encourage you to review the Strategic Plan and submit any comments to firstname.lastname@example.org by December 31. Your voice is critical to this process.
The RTA’s Work in Your Community
Besides advocating for more transit funding, the RTA is hard at work helping communities become more transit-friendly. Our dedicated Community Planning Program provided resources and expertise to help Bartlett, Schiller Park, Maywood and Mundelein begin projects that utilize existing transit assets and promote economic development. The RTA’s Access to Transit Program benefited riders in Chicago Heights and Bensenville, as those communities leveraged RTA allocated funds to create sidewalks and crosswalks that make it easier and safer for riders to reach transit.
The RTA is always working toward new and innovative ways to ensure businesses, large and small, are aware of the opportunities to provide services to our riders. To that end, the 20th Annual Transportation Symposium and Business Exchange – Battle of the Bids held the first two of a three part series of events, which will culminate in an educational, boxing themed “Battle of the Bids” competition. The event, hosted by the RTA in conjunction with CTA, Metra and Pace and the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Illinois Toll Highway Authority, is designed to encourage collaboration among businesses, inform the business community of upcoming opportunities with the participating hosts and provide insight into best practices for bidding on public transportation projects. We hope to see you at the “main event” to be held on February 23, 2018.
Serving Riders with Disabilities
The RTA also administers federal Section 5310 funds to community organizations like the Ray Graham Association in DuPage County through our Enhanced Mobility of Older Adults and Individuals with Disabilities Program. Our partners use that funding to support initiatives that meet the specific needs of older adults and individuals with disabilities. This year the RTA board approved funding for the continuation of twelve projects that help ensure older adults and residents with disabilities have access to mobility services.
This year the RTA continued to provide assessments for its ADA Paratransit program at the South Side Regional Transportation Authority Assessment Center in addition to our other assessment center on the North Side of Chicago. The RTA processes about 18,000 ADA paratransit applications and renewals each year with approximately 60,000 regional riders eligible for the program. The RTA’s Travel Training program also continues to provide a resource to teach people with disabilities how to independently use CTA, Metra and Pace. Our travel trainers worked with approximately 160 individuals to help them gain independence on public transit this year.
Making Your Commute Easier
Through multiple initiatives, the RTA is dedicated to making your commute as easy as possible. Collaboration between CTA, Metra, Amtrak and the RTA led to 81 new signs to be placed throughout Union Station. The RTA’s Transit Benefit Programprovides low-cost administration of pre-tax transit benefits for small companies, serving more than 1,300 local businesses and more than 19,000 employees. The RTA has also been investing in technology to make your bus ride smoother through Transit Signal Priority technology that will be featured on Pace Pulse buses next year.
How we compare with other Transit Agencies
The RTA is proud to produce several reports each year that measure and compare our regional system performance. The Chicago region performed particularly well with the lowest operating cost per passenger mile and the highest number of miles between major mechanical failures, measures of cost effectiveness and reliability.
Working with our Partners to Promote Transit Ridership
The RTA took part in the 12th annual “Dump the Pump” initiative as well as Car Free Day to encourage first time and occasional riders to leave their cars at home by taking public transportation. This year Cubic Transportation Systems, the developer of Ventra™, sponsored the event by providing free cups of coffee to transit riders during the morning rush hour. Donning our orange shirts, we handed out “Dump the Pump” tote bags, “I Dumped the Pump” stickers, and free coffee to thank riders for choosing public transportation.
This year, the RTA recorded videos during certain holidays to showcase the importance of public transit in our region. In the spirit of Halloween, we asked ourselves, “Wouldn’t it be scary if there were no public transportation?” We decided to ask some transit riders their thoughts, and they did not disappoint us with their answers. For Thanksgiving, we asked several community and business leaders on why they were grateful for public transportation.
We are pleased to report that our award-winning Ride On. blog continues to be a great source for RTA news, providing a first person perspective on transit in the region, and allowing riders to learn more about the RTA’s role and impact on transit in the region. The blog, along with the RTA’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages, are easy ways to keep up with us and we hope you do. Both Executive Director Leanne Redden (@LReddenRTA) and I (@KDillardRTA) have our own Twitter accounts as well.
The Board and I are extremely proud of the work the RTA staff does day in and day out and, as we look ahead to 2018, we look forward to a new year of collaboration and service.
Kirk Dillard, Chairman
Regional Transportation Authority of Northeastern Illinois