News for March, 2012
Thursday, March 29th, 2012
Chicago is a world class city that needs a world class transit system. Unfortunately, we don’t have funds that even come close to covering the $15 billion in work needed to keep our transit system working properly and expanding service. That will remain the case for the foreseeable future unless the state gets its fiscal issues straightened out.
It’s difficult to know where to begin with such huge problems like that. The Chicago region’s Riders for Better Transit has proposed legislation that would tie the gas tax to inflation. We like that idea. We also think our elected officials need to get serious about dealing with our antiquated sales tax and pension systems.
It’s been nearly four months since Chicagoans received a quarter-cent sales tax cut. Have you noticed? Probably not. That’s largely because even with the cut, Chicago residents still pay among the highest sales tax in the country—a dubious distinction, one that we would rather not own.
The combined state, county, and city of Chicago sales tax is 9.5 percent on a narrow range of goods and a few services. Given Illinois’ manufacturing and industrial past, taxing goods made sense back then. But our taxing structure hasn’t kept up with the evolution of our economy. Our heavy industrial past has been replaced by a knowledge and service economy. The tax base needs to evolve as well.
A shift from a narrow range of taxable goods to a broader range of goods and services could result in a lower overall tax rate. We’d lose the unsavory distinction of having the highest sales tax while gaining more public funding from more sources.
And what could we do with additional tax receipts from a broader base? We could create a dedicated revenue stream to invest in capital projects that would fill existing transit gaps. We’d replace a dubious distinction with one we’d be proud to tout: the most extensive transit system in the country.
And then pensions. It is no secret that a reformed pension system is long overdue. Our pensions are funded at only 38 percent, with liabilities exceeding assets. No wonder the rating agencies lowered the state’s bond rating in December 2011. To make matters worse, Moody’s Investors Service lowered the rating again in January, making Illinois’ credit rating the lowest in the country. Standard and Poor’s strongly warned the state of another possible downgrade and put Illinois on negative watch.
Having the worst-funded state pension system in the country is another dubious distinction we don’t need.
Pension reform is a vexing public policy issue that our state’s political leadership must tackle if we are to live up to the contract we made to thousands of Illinois employees over several generations. I’m encouraged to see that Gov. Pat Quinn has committed to reform Illinois’ pension system, starting with funding teacher pensions. He has a myriad of solutions, including raising Illinois higher education spending by 12 percent to help fund the pensions of state university employees and shifting at least some of the responsibility of funding teacher pensions to the schools, universities, and school districts.
I am hopeful that we’ll make headway on this in 2012.
Pension reform, like sales tax changes, requires our elected representatives to make difficult choices. Choices that taxpayers will support them for if only they make it clear how taxpayers will benefit.
Bond ratings and sales tax rates help determine how expensive it is to borrow funds for needed capital projects and to assure bond purchasers that there is enough dedicated revenue to pay back those bonds.
Unmet transit capital needs in northeastern Illinois exceed $15 billion. A Triple A+ bond rating and a dedicated revenue stream would go a long way towards closing the transit funding gap and giving our world class city the world class transit system it deserves.
Sales tax and pensions—it’s time for our elected representatives to take action.
Wednesday, March 28th, 2012
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) is moving forward this week with its plan to make green infrastructure a mainstay of stormwater management programs across the state. IEPA has convened a working group of stormwater policy stakeholders, including CNT, to devise statewide performance standards for stormwater management. At the working group’s inaugural meeting on March 29th, CNT Stormwater Program Manager Ryan Wilson will present a review of exemplary state programs from across the country that already have stormwater performance standards in place.
Communities that use water efficiently are communities that are more economically and environmentally resilient. That’s why effective use of our water resources is a cornerstone of CNT’s work.
Read more »
Tuesday, March 27th, 2012
CHICAGO (March 27, 2012)—I-GO CarSharing, Chicago’s nonprofit carsharing organization, has added three all-electric vehicles to its fleet—two Mitsubishi i-MiEVs and a Nissan Leaf—becoming the first Chicago-area carsharing organization to offer all-electric vehicles to its members. The addition of these vehicles is the first step toward completion of I-GO’s larger project to have 16 solar canopies that will supply solar energy to a dedicated network of 30 electric vehicle charging stations. I-GO’s electric vehicle network will also include six charging stations powered by the grid.
“We’re excited to be adding these vehicles to I-GO’s fleet, and to have finalized agreements for all 16 solar canopy electric vehicle charging station sites. This project exemplifies I-GO’s commitment to innovation in carsharing and to providing our members with the most fuel efficient vehicles available,” said Sharon Feigon, CEO of I-GO.
The Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Nissan Leaf are class leaders, having the best mileage on a charge at up to 126/99 miles per charge city/highway (MPC) and 106/92 MPC, respectively, according to the EPA.
These vehicles are available to I-GO members at the following locations:
- Nissan Leaf at Jewel-OSCO at 2940 N. Ashland, Chicago
- Mitsubishi i-MiEV at Illinois Institute of Technology at 3201 S. State Street, Chicago
- Mitsubishi i-MiEV at I-GO’s headquarters at 2125 W. North Avenue, Chicago
I-GO is using a second Nissan Leaf as a fleet vehicle to efficiently service the entire I-GO fleet.
Each solar charging station will form a canopy that covers four parking spaces and will be able to power two electric vehicles. Two spaces will be reserved for I-GO at each location, and the others will be available to the public. Each canopy will be topped with 44 solar panels, for a capacity of 10 kilowatts. In aggregate, the canopies will produce about 200,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity annually, enough for 600,000 driving miles. As a result, I-GO and its members could save as many as 17,000 gallons of gasoline each year.
Once completed, I-GO will have a fleet of 36 all-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles—the largest electric vehicle fleet in the Midwest.
The solar canopies will be located at:
- CTA Brown Line Kimball Park and Ride lot, Chicago (newly announced)
- Ravenswood Professional Building at 1945 W. Wilson Avenue, Chicago (newly announced)
- Greenleaf Art Center at 1806 W. Greenleaf Avenue, Chicago (newly announced)
- JEWEL-OSCO at 3400 N. Western Avenue, Chicago (newly announced)
- JEWEL-OSCO at 2940 N. Ashland Avenue, Chicago (newly announced)
- JEWEL-OSCO at 5516 N. Clark Street, Chicago
- JEWEL-OSCO at 5343 N. Broadway Street, Chicago
- JEWEL-OSCO at 101 W. 87th Street, Chicago
- JEWEL-OSCO at 438 W. Madison Avenue, Oak Park
- City of Evanston Municipal Lot #3 at 1702 Chicago Avenue
- City of Evanston Municipal Lot #4 at 2122 Central Street
- City of Evanston Municipal Lot #32 at 825 Hinman Avenue
- Village of Oak Park lot in the 1100 block of North Boulevard, between Marion and Forest
- Village of Oak Park Village Hall at 123 Madison
- Uncommon Ground Restaurant at 1401 West Devon, Chicago
- Illinois Institute of Technology at 3201 S. State Street (currently a charging station location)
I-GO’s solar-powered electric vehicle project has been made possible by grants from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the Chicago Area Clean Cities Partnership, and the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.
About I-GO CarSharing
Formed in 2002, I-GO has 15,000 members and more than 225 locations in 35 neighborhoods and four suburbs throughout the Chicago region. Members pay for cars by the hour (around $8.50), and gas is included in the hourly fee (as is insurance). A typical I-GO member spends about $2,520 per year on transportation, roughly $5,000 less than what the average American spends annually to own, operate and maintain a car.
I-GO offers a joint smart card with the CTA that allows a seamless transfer between public transit and an I-GO vehicle. The Chicago Card Plus I-GO card is the only one of its kind in the nation. Seventy-three percent of I-GO members either sell a car or postpone a decision to buy one after joining I-GO.
In addition to saving its members money, I-GO reduces traffic congestion, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, improves air quality, and promotes healthy lifestyles and neighborhoods. To join I-GO, visit igocars.org.
Michelle Thoma, I-GO CarSharing, 773-269-2212, firstname.lastname@example.org
Emily Robinson, Center for Neighborhood Technology, 773.269.4043, email@example.com
I-GO CarSharing is dedicated to creating a robust and seamlessly integrated transportation system that is ubiquitous, convenient, and affordable for individuals, and provides the region with expanded economic development opportunities and exemplary environmental performance. I-GO is an affiliate of the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT). http://www.igocars.org/
Tuesday, March 20th, 2012
Join CNT Energy in helping spread the word about Energy Impact Illinois (EI2) in your neighborhood and make every home more energy efficient. We are looking for volunteers to help host neighborhood events, connect EI2 with local organizations, and help EI2 have a face at events in your community. Become a part of the team, and start making your impact today. Read more »
Tuesday, March 20th, 2012
Riders who live at the edge of the Red Line may be unfairly required to pay higher fares the further they travel. Photo by Flickr User, SoStark
Mayor Emanuel and President Clinton’s announcement of an “Infrastructure Trust” has gotten many people thinking about innovative ways to revamp our aging transportation infrastructure.
I’m all for exciting new transportation ideas and ways to fund them. Having toured some innovative transit systems around the world, including Mexico City’s bus rapid transit line, I know we have some catching up to do.
But some ideas that work in other places may not be right for Chicago. I was surprised to read this in the Sun-Times article that covered the infrastructure trust press conference:
“CTA riders could be asked to pay higher fares for buses with front and rear boarding that operate in dedicated lanes with traffic lights that turn green automatically… Riders using a Red Line extension to 130th could pay higher fares the further they travel.”
As a member of the CTA Board, that last bit about the Red Line was news to me. The Board has not made any decisions or even had a discussion about distance-based fares.
I don’t think distance-based fares are the right way to help pay for transit improvements. It strikes me as unfair to make the poorest residents pay more to travel than wealthier people who live closer to downtown. We should not punish those who have been forced farther out of the city’s central core by rising real estate prices with increased transportation costs, especially when they have been denied the good transit access that many of us have enjoyed for so long.
We will find innovative ways to finance transit—I have some thoughts that I’ll share with you through this blog—but charging those who can least afford to pay more is not one of them.
Wednesday, March 14th, 2012
By now everyone knows about the US House of Representatives proposing legislation that would jeopardize funding of mass transit. Outrage from the public forced members to reconsider putting transit funding in peril.
It’s a perfect demonstration that when the public speaks up, Congress listens.
The House leadership couldn’t muster enough votes to pass the bill before they left town for a recess. While members are back in their home districts, attention has turned to the Senate’s transportation bill, known as MAP 21, which was voted on today.
While I wouldn’t have written this bill, MAP 21, as amended in recent votes, has a number of good provisions. For instance, the bill:
- Keeps guaranteed federal transit funding intact.
- Allows transit operators to use grant funds for operations and maintenance (O&M) during economic downturns for up to three years. Operators with less than 100 buses can use these funds for O&M permanently.
- Establishes a $20 million transit-oriented development planning program for the next two years.
- Extends for one year the $240 pre-tax transit benefit at the same level as parking benefits.
- Provides states the option of spending a small amount (4 percent) of highway funding for freight rail projects—a first.
- Expands the popular transportation loan program, known as TIFIA, from $122 million to $1 billion.
- Includes funding eligibility for Complete Streets projects.
- Requires performance criteria for key highway and transit programs.
- Continues direct allocation of funds to metropolitan areas with populations over 200,000. Percentage share has been reduced, but total dollars increased by a bigger pot and by providing Metros with funds from two other programs.
- Increases funds dedicated to road repair from 15.6 percent to 27 percent, and it allows states to spend more on repairs rather than expanding or building new roads.
- Requires asset management—making better use of limited resources—for the first time.
As this bill moves to the House, we will have to work hard to keep funding for the National Highway System, which tends to support large road systems, from getting any bigger. Under the Senate bill, the funding grew from 32 percent to 52 percent of the total highway program. We will also have to fight for transit on every front and for our urban communities to receive their fair share of funding.
We are quickly approaching a March 31 end to the current transportation bill, which could grind transportation construction to a halt and curtail transit services if we don’t pass something in its place. It is imperative that we pass a strong, transportation bill that benefits all modes of transportation.
I urge you to do two things:
1—Send your senators an email thanking them for supporting the key provisions listed above and urging them to maintain that support as it moves forward.
2—Send House Speaker John Boehner an email urging him to stop the partisanship when he gets back to DC and get serious about working with Republicans and Democrats alike to bring forward the newly passed bipartisan Senate bill.
Wednesday, March 14th, 2012
Photo credit, Thirteen of Clubs, http://www.flickr.com/photos/thirteenofclubs/3105615966/
Did you know that minor water leaks in a typical home can account for more than 10,000 gallons of water wasted every year, or enough water to wash nearly 10 months’ worth of laundry? To address this surprising problem, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared this week as “Fix a Leak Week” to remind Americans to check household plumbing fixtures and irrigation systems for leaks.
In cities across the country, Delta Faucet and EPA’s WaterSense program (CNT is a partner) are providing free water-efficiency retrofits to homes. Here in Chicago, more than 100 affordable homes—more than any other city in the country—are receiving water saving improvements. Read more »
Thursday, March 8th, 2012
Can you imagine a Chicago region without transit?
I certainly can’t.
It’s what holds the region together. It gives us wheels without owning a car. It connects us to the wonderful diverse world we call Chicago.
But we need to do better. Not everyone in the region has equal access to transit, and not everyone pays the same.
Compare my two interns at the Center for Neighborhood Technology.
Joanne lives in Lansing, IL near the Indiana border. To get to CNT (in Wicker Park), she has to take a car and three trains. Her 30-mile trip takes 90 minutes, not including waiting times for trains, and costs $14 round trip each day (not including gas and parking).
Bill, in contrast, lives in west suburban Naperville, about as far away. His transit trip takes one commuter train and a transfer to a CTA train or bus. The two train rides take about 50 minutes and cost $16. The bus option adds one minute to the trip and saves 50 cents. Walking and waiting times are not included.
Why should Joanne and Bill have such different opportunities to use transit?
Public transportation needs to work for everyone, not just those who happen to live in the right place. And that’s the commitment of this blog.
Every week, I will share with you a story about how transit and the transportation system can work better. You’ll hear about innovations in Denver and Los Angeles and track legislation in Springfield and in Washington. As a board member of the CTA, I’ll keep you current on happenings there. We’ll see the economic development potential of transit. And we’ll explore the possibility for a much better transportation system.
And, be assured, I will be calling on you to act.
For public transportation to reach its potential, the whole region needs to be engaged, both those who use it and those who don’t… yet.
Join me in Going Places! Subscribe via RSS feed or check back here for weekly updates!