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Coalition members provide feedback on rider safety, free and reduced fare programs, and legislative goals

April 12, 2024


Over 80 riders, agency staff, advocates, and other stakeholders met virtually with the RTA on April 10 for the fourth quarterly Transit is the Answer Coalition meeting and discussed progress on implementation of Transit is the Answer, the regional transit strategic plan. Attendees heard from RTA staff on development of a new tool for evaluating equity within the transit network, the launch of the Access Pilot Program to make transit more affordable for low-income Metra riders, new initiatives to improve rider and operator safety, and progress on RTA’s 2024 State Legislative Agenda. The presentation was followed by breakout groups for discussion of these projects and a networking session.

The meeting began with program updates from RTA staff. Michael VanDekreke, director of Mobility Services, presented on the Access Pilot Program, which extends reduced fares to Metra riders experiencing low incomes. The Access Pilot Program came out of one of the action items of Transit is the Answer, which is to “make paying for transit more seamless and affordable.” Access launched February 1 and is available to applicants who live within the six-county region and are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Applications can be submitted at To date, more than 2,000 individuals have been found eligible for Access.

VanDekreke also shared other updates to fare programs that make riding easier and more affordable. One new program that was developed, in coordination with The Network – Advocating against Domestic Violence, is called the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault RTA Public Transportation Assistance Program. The RTA provided 25,000 full fare Ventra permits, each preloaded with $20, to The Network to distribute to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Learn more about the program’s impact. The RTA also made changes to the Ride Free Program to improve ease of access and streamlined the ADA Paratransit Certification process. Finally, beginning January 1, RTA stopped charging customers a $5 fee to replace a lost RTA Fare Permit to remove a barrier for people with disabilities and seniors in accessing affordable transit.

Next, Kyle Whitehead, an RTA Government Affairs principal, shared a recap of the Public Transit Safety and Security Summit the agency hosted in February. Read a recap of that event or watch the recap video below.

RTA Government Affairs associate Kendra Johnson provided an update on the agency’s 2024 Legislative Agenda. She shared data on the system’s pandemic recovery, including that ridership continues to grow on CTA, Metra, and Pace, which are providing more than 1.2 million trips per weekday. In 2023, the system saw an additional 45 million rides over 2022 and crossed the 300 million mark for the first time since the pandemic. Learn more about 2023 ridership.

Despite this, the system is still facing a $730 million annual operating deficit. The Government Affairs team is focused on outreach and education for legislators, taking advantage of this session and the Fall 2024 veto session to help prepare lawmakers to act on the coming fiscal cliff for operating funding. The first two items on the legislative agenda focus on securing additional funding and the structural reforms required to make the system less reliant on rider fares. The second two items focus on improving coordination and operations in ways that enhance the rider experience and leveraging the transit system to achieve state and regional climate goals.​

The majority of recent advocacy has focused on how state funding for RTA’s Free and Reduced Fare and ADA Paratransit programs impacts funding for the system overall and the future budget deficit. Learn more on our Connections Blog. Additionally, RTA recently coordinated a regional application for the US EPA’s Climate Pollution Reduction Grant program (CPRG) to further advance a zero-emissions transit network. The Transforming Transit application is $375M in total, with about a third of it going to each of the Service Boards. Learn more about this grant application.

Finally, Hersh Singh, RTA principal analyst, discussed the RTA’s new Access to Opportunities platform. The platform will aid in fulfilling a promise of a more equitable transit system and transit investment—specifically for populations with historically poor transit access. It will include various components allowing for detailed analysis of current access levels including rich demographic data, transit schedule data, and multimodal networks with travel times and cost. The platform utilizes a variety of datasets and algorithms to assess the number of opportunities accessible via transit (or any other mode) for a given location, and the RTA will share access to this tool with the Service Boards and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. It will be used to inform policy and strategic decisions, assess equity across the region, and create tools for project analysis and performance management.

After these presentations, attendees were invited to choose from four breakout groups to discuss each initiative, ask questions, and provide feedback. Breakout sessions were followed by 30 minutes of networking, where attendees shared news from their organizations and asked general questions of or provided feedback to RTA staff.

Watch a recording of the full Coalition meeting online and join the Transit is the Answer Coalition to be part of the process and stay informed on progress.

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Tagged in: Transit is the Answer | Ride Free | legislative agenda | Reduced Fare

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