May 10, 2024 - News

How a CTA, Metra, Pace merger would work

Photo of traffic next to a train going away from a downtown

Commuters on the Dan Ryan alongside a CTA train. Photo: Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A new state proposal aims to consolidate public transit in Chicago and its suburbs.

Why it matters: Supporters of the Metropolitan Mobility Authority Act say putting the CTA, Metra and Pace under one roof would allow for integrated fares and coordinated schedules among city transit, commuter rail and suburban buses.

Reality check: They are already under one umbrella organization, the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA).

Yes, but: The RTA is facing a $730 million budget shortfall in 2026 as federal COVID relief dollars dry up, and each agency operates independently with its own bureaucracy, budget and needs.

How it works: The RTA would become the Metropolitan Mobility Authority, with each mode of transit a division of the MMA.

  • One payment system should be used for the CTA, Metra and Pace, with free transfers between each mode, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) recommended in its plan for the future of regional transit.
  • Senate sponsor Ram Villivalam, a Democrat from North Park, doesn't have an exact number of what it would cost, saying need would determine funding.
  • The authority would be overseen by appointees by the governor, Chicago mayor, Cook County Board president and a collar counties representative.

Between the lines: Transit board appointees have historically had more to do with relationships with those appointing them and less about transit experience.

Case in point: Mayor Brandon Johnson is getting heat this week for appointing Rev. Ira Acree from Greater St. John Baptist Church to the RTA board.

  • In a committee hearing, Acree didn't know about the looming fiscal crisis and said he doesn't actually ride the CTA.

Friction point: Current agency heads don't appear eager to give up their power just yet.

  • RTA head Kirk Dillard said in a statement he's open to exploring the idea, but that "more funding to upgrade service and maximize transit's impact on the region's economy, climate, and access" is the primary need right now.
  • "To attribute the region's challenges to anything other than a funding shortage is to perpetuate a narrative that will — at best — serve as a distraction to the funding crisis we face. At worst … it plagues our region by claiming that it is governance and management issues that are the premier drivers of our challenges," CTA said in a statement.

What they're saying: Villivalam says the bill is not an indictment of any of the agencies, but an update on an outdated model.

  • It's "making sure that PACE buses are connected to Metro stations and CTA is reliable, safe, accessible, and coordinating with all the Metro stations in the city of Chicago," Villivalam tells Axios.

What's next: The legislation has not been assigned to committee yet, so it's not going to pass out of the current session, which ends this month.

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