A letter written by RTA Chairman John S. Gates suggesting consolidations of some transit agency services to save money had the desired effect of getting the CTA, Metra and Pace to collaborate and cooperate.
However, the collaboration was a joint response by agency CEOs suggesting the Regional Transportation Authority look in the mirror before offering cost-cutting advice.
"They came out swinging," Regional Transportation Authority board director Andre Rice said at a Wednesday meeting.
"While CTA, Metra and Pace have constrained their payrolls, cut service and/or raised fares in recent years, the RTA head count has grown from 93 (in 2006) to 122 (2012). It appears that the RTA budget has grown to twice that allowed under state statute," Metra's Alex Clifford, Pace's T.J. Ross and the CTA's Forrest Claypool wrote.
In a Friday memo, Gates said multiple administrative and operational redundancies exist. "Dozens of meetings have failed to result in the implementation of any major interagency initiatives to save taxpayer dollars," he said.
Gates cited duplicate marketing, public relations and customer service departments saying "we should market the regional transportation service as a whole, not piecemeal."
He recommended the three agencies look at streamlining their procurement departments as well as maintenance and warehouse buildings. Another problem was CTA and Pace routes that overlap. "That must change," Gates noted.
But Pace spokesman Patrick Wilmot countered that "while it's true that there are places where Pace and CTA routes overlap, there are very valid reasons for why this occurs."
Gates also pointed out that the RTA, CTA, Pace and Metra often compete against each other for federal funding with the help of expensive lobbyists. A Daily Herald 2010 investigation found since 2004, the four agencies had spent more than $12.8 million for 27 lobbyists.
Changing the status quo could result in savings of $100 million a year, Gates estimated. The RTA has financial oversight of Pace, Metra and the CTA.
The three agencies replied they were collaborating on items like joint purchasing agreements and were skeptical of the $100 million figure.
Differences in vehicles and fuel make sharing facilities problematic, Claypool, Clifford and Ross said. They complained RTA bureaucracy creates costly delays in projects and duplicates monitoring by the Federal Transportation Administration, Illinois Department of Transportation and Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.
"These added layers of bureaucracy are burdensome and inefficient, draining vital funds from transit service," the CEOs wrote.
Gates called his letter a starting point. "I'm sure we can work together to make a lot happen."