A major shake-up of Metra, CTA and Pace? Now’s the time to speak out as public hearings kick off

Bostonians catch MBTA buses and trains. Philadelphians commute on SEPTA transit.

In Chicago and the suburbs, we’re blessed with Metra, Pace, the CTA and the Regional Transportation Authority — four governing boards and 47 members overseeing three separate transit systems.

Reform legislation is percolating in Springfield to consolidate the four agencies.

Before that happens, you get to weigh in.

Tuesday marks the beginning of several state Senate Transportation Committee hearings on the future of Chicago-area transit.

“Our No. 1 priority is we need to make the case for public transit to the general public,” said state Sen. Ram Villivalam, the committee’s chair. “We need to make sure that we’re building a transit system for the year 2050 and not just plugging a hole.”

“We want to hear from folks as to their thoughts on both the current structure and also the new structure that was proposed. We want everyone to have a voice,” the Chicago Democrat said.

The legislation would dissolve the boards of Metra, Pace, the CTA and RTA, and create a 19-member Metropolitan Mobility Authority board.

The benefits of reinventing transit include universal fares and cost savings, supporters contend.

It won’t be an easy lift. Turf wars loom and there’s a $730 million shortfall coming in 2026 when COVID-19 relief money runs out.

“Everyone believes the organizational structure does need some updating and I think it needs some redirection,” Republican Sen. Don DeWitte of St. Charles said.

But after hearing from multiple suburban leaders, DeWitte said, “there are a number of people who have grave concerns about abolishing (the boards), particularly given the fact that a significant portion of the revenue that feeds the RTA system comes from the five collar counties,” DeWitte said.

Out of nearly $780 million in transit system-generated revenues, 44% comes from Metra and Pace, 54% derives from the CTA, according to the RTA’s 2024 budget.

There will be tough questions about who pays more into the system, who’s riding and who deserves the most representatives on the proposed MMA board — city or suburbs?

Transit agencies have warned their systems are so distinct a merger could hurt operations.

And amid criticism that they operate in silos, Metra, Pace and the CTA are rolling out a regional day pass good on all systems later this year.

“I’m not sure we need to throw the baby out with the bath water in terms of governance, but I’ve always said — I’m not going to ask for additional revenues for transit without reforms,” RTA Chairman Kirk Dillard said.

  Pace and Metra riders converge at the Des Plaines Metra station Wednesday. Hearings kick off this week on the future of transit in the region, including potentially merging Metra, the CTA and Pace. Brian Hill/

“These hearings are a starting point to begin discussions in earnest.”

Transit agencies nationwide are dealing with pandemic-related budget crises, Dillard noted.

New York City public transit is confronting a $16 billion gap after Gov. Kathy Hochul nixed a plan imposing a congestion toll on Manhattan drivers.

The goal here is to address governance first, then figure out how to pay for transit, Villivalam said.

“Springfield will not vote for funding without a vision and actual plan for reliable, safe, accessible, environmentally conscious and economically impactful public transit,” Villivalam said. “We also will not vote for a plan unless there is real accountability and transparency.”

Here’s a list of hearings. Some locations are pending.

• 10 a.m. Tuesday, Bilandic Building, 160 N. LaSalle St., Chicago. Subject: Transit supports the economy.

• 10 a.m. July 24, Cook County South Suburbs. Subject: Transit must be accessible and equitable.

• 10 a.m. Aug. 8, DuPage, Will and Kendall counties. Subject: Transit supports community quality of life.

• 10 a.m. Aug. 28, Kane and McHenry counties. Subject: Transit is crucial for public health.

• 10 a.m. Sept. 18, Cook County Northwest Suburbs and Lake County. Subject: Transit mitigates climate impact.

  Commuters can catch trains and Pace buses at the Des Plaines Metra station. Hearings kick off this week on the future of transit in the region, including potentially merging Metra, the CTA and Pace. Brian Hill/

One more thing

In case you wondered, SEPTA is the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and MBTA is the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Got comments? Drop an email to

Gridlock alert

Expect major disruptions Monday on the Route 83 bridge over Interstate 88 near Oak Brook as crews repair and update the structure. Traffic will be down to two lanes each way; work wraps up in December.

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