Merge Metra, Pace, CTA into a mega-agency? CMAP suggests massive changes, but there's pushback

Rescuing transit from a fiscal free fall could require higher taxes or fees and possibly kneading Metra, Pace and the CTA into one mega-agency, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning officials said Wednesday.

The three organizations face a combined $730 million annual budget shortfall starting in 2026, when federal COVID-19 funding dries up. In 2022, state lawmakers required CMAP to report on the crisis and offer solutions.

“Be bold. Re-imagine our transportation system. Focus on ensuring the system is financially viable. Make it stronger than it was before COVID-19. Consider equity, climate change and economic growth,” is how CMAP Executive Director Erin Aleman described their objectives.

But pushback was quick to come, from opponents of raising taxes to transit leaders who united in balking at a merger.

“The complications of running our transit systems should not be understated,” Chicago Transit Authority President Dorval Carter said.

“I have a very different customer base and regulatory base than does, say, Metra,” Carter added.

Likewise, Metra Executive Director Jim Derwinski warned of “unintended consequences” of commingling a railroad-based system with bus and subway operations.

CMAP offered multiple recommendations in the report that will be voted on in October, then sent to lawmakers for consideration.

Two budget options were proposed that would generate either $1 billion or $1.5 billion in new annual revenues.

To raise those funds, suggestions included fare increases tied to inflation, a tax on services in Illinois, boosting the Regional Transportation Authority sales tax, higher gas taxes, a parking tax in Chicago, increasing vehicle registration fees and using toll revenues for transit.

In return, riders could expect benefits like more frequent service, faster buses, an integrated fare system, improved accessibility, and a safer, cleaner system, officials stressed.

“We understand how hard this is,” said state Sen. Ram Villivalam, Transportation Committee chairman. “We as the Illinois General Assembly will have to go to our taxpayers and residents to make a case for additional revenue.”

But “if you speak to legislators across the region ... they are willing to tackle the tough conversation of revenue. They know we need a reliable, safe, environmentally friendly, equitable transportation system.”

Another major change would be restructuring the transit boards and the RTA, which has financial oversight of all three.

CMAP's draft report recommends two options. One would integrate Metra, Pace and the CTA into one immense agency. The second would increase the RTA's powers, giving it authority over fares, funding, planning and capital projects for the three agencies, which would each focus on running their systems.

The change would eliminate disconnects, improve efficiency and allow for seamless transit, planners said.

Leaders from the collar counties questioned whether restructuring the transit agencies would undercut suburban riders.

And, Pace Chairman Richard Kwasneski said the three organizations do collaborate on multiple fronts.

RTA warns of fiscal 'cliff,' hints at sales tax expansion and other changes

Taxes? Tolls? 'Transit is the Answer' plan brings bevy of questions

RTA safety summit hits nerve with concerned CTA, Metra riders

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.