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Article posted: 9/25/2013 6:59 PM

Transit agencies lay out differences to panel

Ann Schneider

Ann Schneider

 
George Ranney

George Ranney

 
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Give us more power, merge all four agencies, or leave us alone were among the conflicting arguments presented by Metra, Pace, the CTA and the Regional Transportation Authority at a hearing Wednesday before a state transit task force.

Gov. Pat Quinn's panel is supposed to study how to eliminate waste, fraud and abuses and streamline what can be redundant bureaucracies at the four agencies.

The group's members include former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, IDOT Secretary Ann Schneider and Metropolis Strategies CEO George Ranney of Grayslake.

RTA Chairman John S. Gates argued the task force should either give his agency more oversight powers or merge all four agencies to create a regional bus, train and commuter rail service.

"My preference would be that the RTA be given the tools to do its job," Gates said, adding the RTA sought a line-item veto on the agencies' budgets and the ability to look at real-time financial records.

CTA Executive Director Forrest Claypool questioned RTA spending, asking the task force not to enable "duplicative and ineffective" bureaucracy.

And he countered that merging or consolidating departments at the agencies as Gates suggested would not be as "seamless" as suggested.

"Each service board serves different populations in different ways," he said.

Metra Interim CEO Don Orseno agreed, noting that even in something as simple as diesel purchases, the CTA and Metra don't necessarily buy the same types of fuel. Metra is too complex to simply consolidate it with the other three agencies, officials said, citing as an example negotiating with freight railroads over schedules.

The task force was created in part because of a Metra scandal that erupted this summer when outgoing CEO Alex Clifford accused two board directors of misconduct and condoning political patronage. Clifford's up-to $718,000 separation agreement was called hush money by some lawmakers and fallout has included the resignations of five out of 11 directors.

The RTA initiated an audit into Metra but when it came to any disciplinary actions, "all we could do is talk about it," Gates said.

Meanwhile, other leaders told the panel the real problem facing transit is a shortfall in operating and capital funding.

Metra wasn't trying to take away Pace or the CTA's funding, Director Norm Carlson of Lake Forest said. "The bottom line is we all need more funding."

"We currently only invest eight cents on every dollar to serve the suburb-to-suburb and reverse commute market," Pace Executive Director T.J. Ross said.

The task force will make initial recommendations prior to the fall veto session and give a final report in January.

Other advisers include former CTA chairman Carole Brown, DePaul University political science professor Adrienne Holloway of Aurora, retired Wheeling High School teacher Don Tantillo of McHenry and tax expert Sonia Walwyn of Naperville, a Duff & Phelps executive.

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