After five years trying to make the CTA, Pace and Metra play nice as well as squeeze money out of Springfield, former RTA Executive Director Steve Schlickman is in a better place now.
He's the new director of the University of Illinois at Chicago's Urban Transportation Center where I tracked him down to dish on all things transit.
Anyone who lives in the suburbs knows one reason we're stuck in our cars is a lack of public transit. How do you fix that, I asked him.
"The problem for the suburbs is that there is a desire and demand for more transit, so money over and above what we use to maintain the system needs to be found." Schlickman said. "Or Pace is going to have to find a way to reinvent itself within its existing budget."
One way for Pace to do that is with bus rapid transit. But "to get better transit service, you may have to give up more inefficient bus service ... and move from neighborhood meandering routes to more arterial service," Schlickman said.
Bus rapid transit also provides an alternative to the increasingly unlikely STAR line, a proposed suburb-to-suburb commuter rail line traveling along I-90 that's bogged down because it's so costly.
"I don't think we can afford the rail option," Schlickman said. Instead of trains, buses could go from town to town using a dedicated carpool lane on I-90, he suggested. Cars with just one driver could also use the lane for a premium.
"You can gouge the single-occupancy vehicles and spin off some of that money to support the transit system," Schlickman said.
All three agencies are short of cash for infrastructure and improvements but Schlickman has doubts about the state's $31 billion capital program filling that need. The program faces a lawsuit before the Illinois Supreme Court.
"The state capital program is suspect because of the court challenge, but even before, there was a question if there would be enough revenue generated," he said.
In terms of revenues, Metra and Pace are far better off than the Chicago Transit Authority, which "clearly is in worse shape," Schlickman said. "Basically every year, they move the slow zones around."
Every once in a while there's talk about combining the RTA, CTA, Pace and Metra. Schlickman says the current system with the RTA as oversight agency offers a regional approach to transit and funding needs that's important.
But, it's not the most efficient system," he said. "Obviously there is duplication of governance that's expensive."
Metra's been super busy since last year following the death of former CEO Phil Pagano during a financial misconduct investigation.
The Metra board and its former Chairman Carole Doris have worked hard to correct the situation, Schlickman thinks. Pagano was a "competent, commuter rail expert and politically savvy individual," he said. "Unfortunately he lost his moral compass along the way."
What was Schlickman's greatest frustration on the job?
"What really frustrated me was a lack of support for Pace and constant criticism of Pace for the way it delivered ADA paratransit service. Our studies showed Pace was doing a good job."
Flotsam and jetsam
• Take time to smell the roses at the Chicago Department of Aviation's garden show at O'Hare International Airport's Terminal 3. The show features displays from the Chicago Botanic Garden, Openlands and Conservation Foundation and runs until May 13.
• You can submit a story about your favorite crossing guard to the Active Transportation Alliance through May 3. Stories will be featured on the alliance's website as part of Crossing Guard Appreciation Month in May. To participate, visit activetrans.org/crossingguard.
• Brace yourself for lane closures on I-55 between Kedzie Avenue and County Line Road as IDOT resurfaces the highway. Road work starts Monday and lasts until October.