To build a brighter future, we must make public transit greener, more accessible

In July, we hosted a town hall meeting in Hanover Park to ask residents how public transportation could be improved in the Northwest suburbs.

The message from attendees was loud and clear: There is a pressing need to expand access to public transportation and we must invest in fully electric vehicle fleets to combat climate change.

We couldn't agree more. By making public transit cleaner and more accessible, we would make strides in mitigating the effects of climate change. We would have fewer vehicles on the roads and significantly reduce our carbon footprint, which is critically important in the fight against climate change.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average passenger vehicle emits about 400 grams of CO2 per mile and according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), communities that invest in public transit reduce the nation's carbon emissions by 63 million metric tons annually.

For too long, local governments haven't been able to make real investments in public transit due to a lack of funding and resources. But with an influx of federal dollars to help our communities recover from the pandemic and fix our infrastructure - from the American Rescue Plan Act to the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill - we are finally poised to meet the moment and make transformative investments in public transportation.

Last month, the Regional Transportation Authority - which oversees finances, secures funding and conducts transit planning for the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace - split up the $1.5 billion it received from the American Rescue Plan Act among the three agencies. Over the next three years, the stimulus funding will go toward helping those agencies recover and improve services.

But the RTA will soon receive even more federal dollars from the recently signed Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill - and while the details of the funding are still unclear, we must listen to residents and make bold investments in clean, accessible public transportation.

Investing in public transportation isn't just good for the environment and residents - it helps grow the local economy. Every $1 billion invested in public transportation supports and creates approximately 50,000 jobs and every $10 million in capital investment in public transportation yields $30 million in increased business sales, according to the APTA.

With federal infrastructure dollars, Metra should expand service, make it easier to get to Metra stations and focus on transitioning to clean, renewable energy. This could include launching a ride share program to get people to Metra stops and continuing to seek battery-powered, zero-emission locomotives.

Pace has made electrification a top priority, recently committing to transition its fleet to zero emission vehicles by 2040. Undoubtedly, this is a major step in the right direction. But Pace must develop a plan to follow through with this commitment as well as expand service throughout the Northwest suburbs. We also believe local agencies should advance equity in the Northwest suburbs by creating direct western access to O'Hare International Airport.

It won't be easy to implement these necessary changes. We'll need to build new infrastructure, install charging stations and green technologies and provide training for employees. That's why we're also calling on Pace to conduct a study to determine how much electrifying the fleet would cost and to lay out a comprehensive, fiscally responsible plan to fully transition to an electric fleet by 2040.

To be clear, public transit agencies can't do this alone - and Cook County is working hard to do its part, recently launching the Fair Transit South Cook pilot in the south suburbs to increase access to public transit, enhance service and lower costs. We urge the county to expand this program to the Northwest suburbs so that we can continue to make public transit a viable, affordable option for residents.

Investing in greener, more accessible public transit is clearly a win-win. It would help us better connect our communities, strengthen our local economy and make it easier for people to get to good-paying jobs - all while protecting the environment.

We're at an inflection point in the fight against climate change. The time to think outside the box is now. If we don't invest in accessibility and electrification, we will miss a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a better, brighter Cook County.

• Kevin Morrison, a Democrat from Mount Prospect, is a member of the Cook County Board. Rodney Craig is Hanover Park mayor and Metra board member. Bill McLeod is Hoffman Estates Mayor and Pace board member. Mary Beth Canty is an Arlington Heights village trustee and RTA board member.

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