Can $382,000 for consultants heal regional transit rifts?
Regional Transportation Authority leaders agreed Wednesday to try to solve deep-seated turf wars among transit agencies by hiring outside experts for $382,855 to devise a fair system to divvy up revenues.
But with the CTA, Pace and Metra all determined to keep their share of funding or increase it, it's unclear what equity consultants can achieve.
"We feel the current (funding) formula is outdated and doesn't reflect regional needs," Chief Financial Officer Bea Reyna-Hickey said.
Schaumburg-based Delcan Corp. will evaluate the cost and value of the CTA, Pace and Metra's service; how much the agencies are subsidized per mile and ride; geographic sources of funding; and how accessible the systems are to people's homes and jobs; among other issues.
The regional divide between the city and suburbs seemed to emerge in a 10-4 vote, with four Chicago RTA directors opposing the expenditure.
"I don't understand where this is coming from," Director Christopher Melvin of Chicago said, adding he needed more information on the necessity for the study.
"The problem is a lack of trust, which is a hard thing to deal with," Finance Chairman Dwight Magalis of Libertyville said. An independent report, however, could give the agency a factual basis to improve the funding system, he noted.
If the consultants recommend major changes in funding, they could open up numerous cans of worms. Transit in the region is mostly paid for with fares and sales tax revenues.
Just this fall, RTA directors couldn't agree on how to divvy up $ million in so-called discretionary funds among the three agencies. The stalemate lasted for weeks and nearly put the agency in peril of breaking state law that sets a deadline for approving budgets.
"It was a very intricate and protracted negotiation that went on for four months," RTA Chairman John Gates said.
RTA directors are appointed by a mixture of city and suburban elected officials, and the scramble for scarce cash among the suburban agencies -- Metra and Pace -- with the Chicago Transit Authority have been reflected in board politics lately.