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Public transit is ready to innovate, but challenges remain

Crain's Chicago Business

Monday, November 22, 2021  |  Article  |  KIRK DILLARD Chairman LEANNE REDDEN Executive director

Regional Transportation Authority leaders agree with columnist Joe Cahill's examination of what transit needs to tackle, but they have another deadline in mind.oe Cahill identifies the core challenges and opportunities that face the essential infrastructure of our regional economy ("Public transit needs to build back better," Nov. 12). He points out two "equally daunting" tasks for achieving Glasgow's 1.5C climate goal: double transit ridership and find new ways to pay for transit by 2030.

We at the Regional Transportation Authority agree with much that Cahill says, but we are working toward another deadline: 2025, when more than $3 billion in federal relief funding to sustain transit operations will begin to run out, despite the historic nature of the emergency relief and the infrastructure bill signed this week. The RTA has ensured that the CTA, Metra, and Pace will be stable until then because all federal emergency dollars have been allocated, buying us necessary time to both plan and act.

The RTA has a responsibility to ensure our region's public transit system is viable for the next generation. Cahill is correct: It is time to think creatively about funding and financing. The RTA is actively engaged in making a five-year strategic plan tied to a 10-year financial plan to serve as a guide to the regional transit system's recovery. Our own data and independent surveys also show that he is correct that some of the system's former riders will not come back soon.

But there are also many in our region who never stopped riding. Those who continue to use the transit system can see how the CTA, Metra and Pace have innovated throughout the pandemic to become safer, cleaner and less expensive. Employers should know that when the time comes for workers to return to the office in large numbers, your transit system is ready to carry them. And whether they use transit or not, everyone in metropolitan Chicago should understand that it is an irreplaceable piece of our regional mobility system and contributes to our region, both economically and environmentally, and enables opportunity in ways and at a scale nothing else can.

Glasgow's are critical goals, as are full economic recovery and social equity—all of which rely on a regional transit system that serves the needs of the people of our entire region.

We have been listening carefully to our riders, current and lapsed, and they have been telling the RTA board and staff about the kind of transit experience they want. We invite your readers to take a survey to add to the dialogue and visioning that will continue through 2022, culminating with a regional transit strategic plan that will serve as our blueprint for shaping and paying for the best regional transit system we can create together.

KIRK DILLARD

Chairman

LEANNE REDDEN
Executive director
Regional Transportation Authority