Merge transit agencies into one, task force members say
Creating a single superagency to oversee transit in the region appears to be the consensus of a state task force responsible for reforms at the RTA, Metra, Pace and CTA.
"We need something bold in our governance structure," said former U.S. attorney and task force member Patrick Fitzgerald.
If finalized later this month, the preliminary concepts offered up Monday by the Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force will go to Gov. Pat Quinn, who convened the group, and to lawmakers.
One idea that seemed to have the support of the majority would be to merge the Regional Transportation Authority, Metra, CTA and Pace under one board but create separate divisions for operating the different services.
"An integrated model would look at the region as a whole," board member Raul Raymundo said. "A smaller, more accountable board makes more sense."
An alternative plan would be to wrap all four agencies under the authority of the Illinois Department of Transportation.
IDOT Secretary Ann Schneider, who is a task force member, said she prefers merging all four as one stand-alone agency but added that "the devil is in the details."
Such a reversal of the status quo is expected to produce pushback from the agencies.
But task force Co-Chairman George Ranney proposed keeping the system of regional leaders, including county chairman, appointing members to the new agency's board.
Fitzgerald recommended new ethics changes that will include board appointees being screened by an independent civic-minded panel, ending pay for board members and a "firewall" to prevent patronage pressure over contracts or hiring.
The task force started work in 2013 after a scandalous summer when allegations of political pressure over jobs and conflicts of interest arose at Metra, the commuter rail agency. Also in play are a funding crisis facing Metra, Pace and the CTA, concerns about inefficiencies and redundant bureaucracies, and the relevancy of the Regional Transportation Authority, which oversees all three transit agencies.
State Inspector General Ricardo Meza also provided written testimony with concerns about the RTA opposing a plan to hire auditors for his agency and wanting the Office of the Executive Inspector General's budget reduced. He noted that Metra now requires all employees to inform its ethics officer if an OEIG investigator requests information, which could have a "chilling effect" on whistle-blowers.
Having the agencies audit themselves or hire third-parties to conduct audits "is insufficient oversight," he said.
The RTA responded that "the legislature has never given the OEIG auditing authority."
Metra Chairman Martin Oberman responded Metra has put in numerous changes following the scandal and "has strived to operate in a cooperative, ethical manner with the OEIG."