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updated: 2/19/2014 6:57 PM

Outspoken RTA chairman exiting in June

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  • John S. Gates joined the RTA as chairman in summer 2013.

      John S. Gates joined the RTA as chairman in summer 2013.
    Daily Herald File Photo


With the Regional Transportation Authority under scrutiny by a state panel, its Chairman John S. Gates announced Wednesday he won't seek re-election when his term expires in June.

Gates' chairmanship has been marked by clashes with Metra, the CTA and Pace. The outspoken businessman criticized the agencies for redundancies and waste and used the agency's oversight powers to audit them on several occasions.

Gates said his departure would allow him to focus more on his family, business and other civic interests. "As I leave the RTA, I know that the foundation of our public transportation system is stronger today than it was four years ago."

Although chosen by RTA board members, Gates' appointment was largely orchestrated behind closed doors by the elected officials who handpick the board.

His departure comes as the agency, Metra, Pace and the Chicago Transit Authority are being reviewed by a task force established by Gov. Pat Quinn. The task force is expected to make reform recommendations this spring.

Gates was paid a $25,000 a year stipend. He is chairman of the private investment firm PortaeCo.

DuPage County Chairman Dan Cronin said the announcement was not a huge surprise.

"He's an accomplished business guy and a guy with a lot of energy ... he wants to get back into the business arena," Cronin said. "He's had a successful and thriving business."

Cronin credited Gates, 60, as a "public servant in the truest sense of the word."

The chairman's tenure was punctuated by friction with the CTA, Metra and Pace, including a summer 2012 exchange where he chastised the trio for wasting millions in duplicative routes and administrative departments. The agencies fought back, accusing the RTA of "mission creep," and a bloated bureaucracy.

Gates also drew criticism from disabled riders when he compared paratransit to a "limousine service" during an interview with the Daily Herald in fall 2012. He apologized for the comment.

During Gates' term, the CTA, Metra and Pace operated with balanced budgets and greater accountability, RTA officials said. They also credited audits, including a review of the rollout of the new Ventra fare system and a controversial settlement deal with former Metra CEO Alex Clifford, with creating more accountability.

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