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RTA unveils 2024 legislative agenda to address fiscal cliff, improve regional transit system

November 27, 2023

22 RTA 0922

Since the adoption of Transit is the Answer, the strategic plan for the region’s transit system, the State of Illinois has taken important legislative action to improve transit in the six-county RTA region. A transit package passed last spring included extended relief from the state’s 50 percent farebox recovery ratio requirement for the system, a critical step in making the system less reliant upon fares. The RTA and partners are currently implementing other parts of the package, including expanded free fare offerings to survivors of gender-based violence and a study on how to create a more equitable transit fare structure. But more work remains to be done.

Historic underfunding of the system has been exacerbated in recent years because of pandemic-induced changes in travel patterns that have resulted in drops in ridership and fare revenues. Beginning in 2026, the RTA system is facing a projected $730 million annual budget gap. At about 20 percent of the regional transit operating budget, this shortfall is in line with peer operating agencies such as MTA in New York or BART in San Francisco. To date, three states have already taken action to provide additional resources that help to fill their transit systems’ funding gaps.

Drastic fare increases and service cuts won’t solve this problem – the system requires additional funding, reform, and policy changes that improve transit, making it a more competitive travel option.

To continue the conversation about the value transit brings to the region and the need for additional revenue and policy change, the RTA developed a legislative policy agenda for the 2024 legislative session. The RTA will host the third quarterly Transit is the Answer Coalition Meeting on December 5 to discuss the legislative agenda and the upcoming legislative session. RSVP to the meeting today.

Legislative Agenda

The 2024 RTA Legislative Agenda was developed following conversations with over 40 state legislators, the Governor’s Office, and transit stakeholders after the conclusion of the spring legislative session. The discussions regularly went back to the important role that transit plays in the region’s economy and quality of life. The agenda consists of four main policy goals that will guide RTA’s advocacy for the transit system. The legislative agenda prioritizes securing additional operating funding to maintain transit operations while recognizing that funding the system as it stands today won’t sustain it into the future or give the region’s riders the transit system they deserve. The existing funding model relies heavily on rider fares, as do many legacy transit systems in the United States, and steps must be taken to allow for expanded public support and additional free and reduced fares. The agenda also looks at ways to improve the rider experience and strengthen transit’s place at the center of a more sustainable transportation network that combats climate change.

  • Fully fund the region’s transit system.
    Raise at least $730 million to address the immediate budget shortfall, recognizing that additional funds will be needed to fund an improved system that riders expect and deserve.
  • Develop a funding structure that is less reliant on rider fares and more focused on equity and access.
    Eliminate the current 50 percent farebox recovery ratio to provide more equitable service that connects people to opportunity. Fully fund existing free and reduced fare programs, estimated at $150 million annually, and ADA Paratransit service, $250 million annually.
  • Pursue governance reforms that improve rider experience and regional mobility.
    Reform the RTA Act to improve coordination between CTA, Metra, and Pace and strengthen the system’s responsiveness to the needs of riders and communities across the region, such as strengthening the regional approach to fare policy.
  • Pursue reforms to how the State plans, evaluates, and prioritizes transportation projects to reduce emissions and advance racial equity.
    Find opportunities to leverage transit to address state and regional climate goals, with a focus on improving the system to grow ridership, which will further reduce regional emissions. Accelerate the transition to a zero-emission bus network.

You can read the full agenda here.

Implementing the RTA Legislative Agenda

The RTA will work with policy makers at all levels of government to continue to raise awareness of the fiscal cliff and identify solutions to ensure the viability of the region’s transit system. With additional funding, RTA and the Service Boards could do more—expanded free and reduced-fare offerings and integrated passes are just the start.

Join the RTA’s Transit is the Answer Coalition and register for the third quarterly meeting to help bring about the legislative changes the region’s riders deserve.

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Tagged in: Transit is the Answer | RTA | Fiscal cliff

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