Stranded in Illinois: Leaders Call for a Public Transit “Rainy-Day Fund”

In a press conference last Thursday, CNT hosted a panel of experts who each discussed effects of the downturn on public transit in Illinois and put forward ways to stop the crisis it is rapidly creating. The conference was called in the wake of a report released by Transportation for America, “Stranded at the Station”, which profiles the paradox of agencies having to raise transit fares and cut services while demand for transit increases.

The press conference focused on how Illinois, in particular, is faring in this climate. Co-chair of Gamaliel Metro Chicago David Bigsby, Access Living’s Program Director Rahnee Patrick, Vice President of the Metropolitan Planning Council Peter Skosey, and Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District Managing Director Bill Volk each adding to the portrait of public transit in Illinois, who the cuts hurt and how it can adjust to weather the storm.

The panel discussed how cuts to transit in Illinois are disproportionately hurting low-income communities, communities of color and people with disabilities. From a business perspective, cuts and lack of reliable funding are harming business-owners, Chicago’s economy and the economy of the state as a whole.

The panel also offered solutions. Dedicated state funding for operations help transit authorities like Champaign-Urbana’s thrive. Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District Managing Director, Bill Volk, reported that state funding for operations has allowed Champaign-Urbana to cut fares and extend services while 90 percent of other transit authorities in America are being hit.

Maria Choca Urban, Director of CNT’s Transportation & Community Development Program, joined the panel in calling on legislators to create a “rainy-day fund” for public transit that would stop forcing transit authorities to siphon off their capital funding when times get tough.

“Legislators should come back to Springfield to pass the Governor’s income tax increase and dedicate some portion of that increase to build up a financial cushion for transit,” Choca Urban said.