Examining the Transit Funding Crisis in Illinois
Chicago, IL— Away from the attention of front pages and news channels, conditions in America are quietly coming together for a paradox in public transit. From New York to San Francisco, Seattle to Miami, in every major city in America and many of the smaller ones, public transit funding is at odds with the economic realities of the Great Recession.
According to “Stranded at the Station”, a new report released Tuesday by Transportation for America (T4), transit funding is drying up, fares are rising and services are dwindling for close to 90 percent of American public transit systems. And just as these cuts and fare hikes are coming, more people need better access to affordable public transit.
Despite the rumbles in the distance, CTA has just announced plans for an ambitious project that would bring tens of thousands more people out of their cars and onto the trains and finally bring all the benefits of the ‘L’ to the oft-neglected far south side.
At the same time, Pace suburban bus system says it won’t have the money to pay its paratransit bus drivers past October. And paratransit isn’t the region’s only problem. Doomsday budgets are becoming a yearly occurrence, and transit users already suffer from 19 miles of decrepit ‘slow zone’ tracks on the ‘L’ lines.
Lack of funding affects public transit all over the state of Illinois—in Chicago and Champaign-Urbana alike. Today, the Center for Neighborhood Technology hosted a teleconference that featured
· Pastor David Bigsby, Co-Chair of Gamaliel Metro Chicago;
· Peter Skosey, Vice President of the Metropolitan Planning Council;
· Rahnee Patrick, Program Director of Access Living;
· Bill Volk, Managing Director for the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District; and
· Maria Choca-Urban, Director, Transportation & Community Development Program at CNT.
The panelists see the solution to Chicago’s problems coming from the state legislature. Sales and real-estate transfer taxes currently compose the vast majority of transit’s dedicated state and city funding for operations. But those tax receipts fall in an economic downturn and, hence, so does funding for public transit. It is imperative that the governor’s tax reform get passed, and it needs to include an income-tax based “rainy day fund” for transit, so that when sales and real-estate transfer taxes fall, public transit doesn’t have to fall with them. The fund needs to be protected from raiding for other purposes by strict criteria for fund withdrawals so that in the next economic downturn, transit agencies will be able to serve their customers.
Since 1978, Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) has been a leader in promoting urban sustainability—the more effective use of existing resources and community assets to improve the health of natural systems and the wealth of people, today and in the future.