Racial bias or not, transit funding formula must change

By now you may have heard that two minority CTA riders filed a class-action lawsuit Wednesday alleging that racial bias favoring white transit riders over minorities has resulted in a transit funding formula that benefits Metra over the CTA.

A Metra spokesperson said the agency “categorically denies any type of racial
discrimination,” and questions the validity of the ridership statistics
cited in the lawsuit. The suit claims that 60 percent of CTA riders are Latino or black, while 70 percent of Metra riders are white.

Now, I don’t know whether those ridership figures are correct. But I do know I’m appy that maybe this lawsuit will force lawmakers to revisit the flawed funding formula.

The CTA now receives 59 percent of RTA operation subsidies — a figure unchanged since 1983 — even though the CTA 82 percent Chicago-area transit users ride the CTA, says the suit. And Metra gets 27 percent of  RTA funds, even though it serves just 12 percent of area riders, the suit says.

For its part, the CTA doesn’t blame the current funding imbalance on racial discrimination. Instead it says the funding formula should be changed to take into account population and demographic changes in the six counties served by the RTA.

The Chicago Bar-Tender has a copy of the lawsuit here.


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  • Look, the CTA, Metra and Pace are part of a REGIONAL transit system, and as such, it is irresponsible for agencies to be fighting one another for bigger slices of the funding pie.

    Yes, Metra carries far less passengers per day than the CTA L and bus. However, those trips on Metra are over a much greater distance and serve areas where there is a short supply of transit. If we decide to reduce Metra funding, this would have a terrible impact on downtown Chicago just as if we reduced CTA funding. 80% of Metra trips are weekday rush hour trips to and from downtown. That is a lot of workers that depend on this vital service.

    We should be advocating for more transit funding across the board, for all three agencies, than fighting about silly discrimination lawsuits.

  • RJRich is right. Metra may only carry 12% of the region's "unlinked passenger trips", but it carries 44% of the passenger-miles (CTA carries 48%). The average distance traveled on a CTA trip is 3.8 miles, compared to 23.1 on Metra, and 7.6 on Pace. To act like a regional express service like Metra isn't extremely valuable to both the city and the suburbs is ridiculous. How would city residents like it if they had no access to suburban jobs (75% of the region's total jobs if I recall correctly) by transit?

    It should also be noted that CTA's ridership numbers are inflated due to transfers. A passenger taking a bus to a train counts as two trips rather than one in the reporting system. Metra riders shouldn't be penalized because they don't have to transfer.

  • In reply to JWirtz79:

    Let's also remember that Metra put through a 6% fare hike for 2010, which Quinn did not roll back.

  • In reply to JWirtz79:

    There are so many logical inconsistencies in this suit that it looks like a rank amateur prepared it.

    For instance, read section 16 of the Summary of the case. This is really the central issue. In any event, that section alone is so patently absurd on its face that it represents obvious grounds for a summary judgement against the plaintiffs.

    The handlers of these two people should have tried applying the standards of that section 16 to the average suburban resident before they wasted everyone's time with this nonsense. Put simply, the public transit options of someone living in the suburbs is nonexistent compared to those of someone living in the city. If anything, much more money should be sent to the suburbs to increase access before we start worrying about the issues in the city.

  • How much of an impact does the sales tax in Chicago and Cook County have on this funding issue? The sales tax in Chicago is 10.25% while it is alot less in the burbs. I know the transit agencies get a share of the sales tax revenues but not sure how much the CTA gets from purchases outside Chicago. If people in Chicago go to DuPage and Will County to make purchases this helps Metra and Pace more than it does CTA.

  • In reply to rsakowski:

    I had a link to the RTA Act for joe001, but I'll provide it again. http://ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs4.asp?DocName=007036150HArt.+IV&ActID=984&ChapAct=70%26nbsp%3BILCS%26nbsp%3B3615%2F&ChapterID=15&ChapterName=SPECIAL+DISTRICTS&SectionID=48305&SeqStart=9200000&SeqEnd=11200000&ActName=Regional+Transportation+Authority+Act. Look at sec. 4.03.3.

    Not to go too much into it again, but:
    1. There is old money, signified in the Act as 80% of 85%, etc:
    a. 15% of that money goes to the RTA discretionary fund, and most of that goes to the CTA.
    b. The rest collected in Chicago goes to the CTA.
    c. In Cook County outside Chicago, 30% to CTA, 55% to Metra and 15% to Pace.
    d. In collar counties, 70% to Metra and 30% to Pace.
    2. Of the "new money," i.e. the .25 point sales tax increase in 2008, 48% to CTA, 39% to Metra and 13% to Pace.
    3. The Real Estate Transfer Tax was increased in Chicago only, basically to support bonds to take care of the CTA's pension and retiree health care deficits.
    4. As I noted below, there are various setasides off the top in the 2008 RTA Bill. One to which I alluded, but did not explicitly state, is that paratransit gets $100 million, plus or minus the difference in sales tax collections computed from the base year. Of course, since sales tax collections are down 20%, while paratransit costs are up 20%, you know who is complaining.

    Someone else mentioned the state sales tax setasides and subsidies paid to the RTA.

    So, those of you who want to "reform the formula," you know where to start....

  • In reply to jack:

    Richard, I should have also mentioned that the RTA tax rate in Cook County is 1.25%, while it is .75% in the collar counties, but the RTA is required to distribute .25% directly to the collar counties, resulting in an additional .25% for the RTA distribution formula in the collar counties. That apparently was so Lake County could get a transportation sales tax, even though the voters there continually voted it down.

    The RTA sales tax is imposed on food, while most other sales taxes, including the 1 point Cook County increase, are not.

  • 1. We went through this funding debate in 2007. If anyone thinks the legislature will do a better job the second time around...
    2. The last time around, whoever was counting on a bill relied on suburban legislators such as Hamos, Mathias, and Nekritz. Also, all the sudden, setasides for Pace appeared, such as the South Cook Jobs fund, and the Suburban Mobility Fund. There is apparently enough from the ICE setaside to run the Tollway Express buses, although Richard Wronski reported that the three new routes don't have any passengers. Looking at the sponsors of the 2007 bills, I didn't see any state representatives from the city pulling any weight.
    3. If the argument is going to be that CTA provides 82% of the rides, it should collect 82% of the fares. That number is never given. However, the RTA as a whole has a 50% recovery ratio requirement. I bet they count the "Quinn loan" as revenue when coming to that.
    4. Speaking of Nekritz, Pace has a newsletter saying that they support her bill to the effect that whatever the paratransit deficit, paratransit gets 10% more the next year. They complain that CTA is fighting that. It doesn't take much sense to figure out why. However, if they cut paratransit, you get a lawsuit that they are discriminating against the disabled, a much easier one to prove.
    5. As demographics and the suburban influence over the legislation show, the CTA is not entitled to more attention. Given the vacant properties in some areas on the south side, there isn't the population to support the current service level.
    6. Repealing Free Rides for Seniors and making those who can afford it pay half fare is fought by the political establishment, even though it in effect resulted from legal extortion by former Governor Pander Hair.
    7. At least as Pace makes clear, the current difficulty is that sales tax revenue is about 20% off what was projected in 2007. As long as the economy is out, and Chicago discourages sales tax collection by keeping out sales tax generators, and Stroger hurts sales tax collections in the county by encouraging people to shop in collar counties where CTA's share is lower, there is going to be a problem, no matter what the formula is.

    Therefore, I conclude, as I consistently do...
    a. Renewed calls for more "funding" and "a new funding formula" are hollow.
    b. There is no "funding" without "new taxes." Without new taxes, the 3 service boards are just fighting over the pie. Also, you know that Quinn's and Hynes's platforms include new taxes.
    c. Nobody is proposing real reforms. The so called reforms in the 2008 bill were a joke.
    d. The filers of this suit are just publicity hounds, and boy did they get it.

    You thought I got personal yesterday, but I didn't. Today, however, if you want to provide a full background of this issue, discuss matters 1 through 7, with facts rather than the "buzz words" described in b.

    An aside, but probably a true one...Maybe I can get some publicity by getting a press agent to say that I am filing a lawsuit in support of Korean minority members who are losing their weekend bus service on Pace 422-423. That isn't "fairly funded," either, but I'm sure ridership statistics back cutting it.

  • I'm only going to comment on the last paragraph, with which I agree. Of course, for those of you who say that the CTA's position is justified because Ls go into some close in suburbs, the real answer is to do away with all four boards and put in one properly apportioned board for the whole area. Then all the service board strife is eliminated, and one board, clearly representative of the 6 county area can take responsibility for the kind of decisions of which Mike speaks, as well as for the distribution of funds. If there is then any discrimination in a legal sense, at least we would know who is responsible.

    However, I don't know how many times I have stated that here in the past couple of months, and noted how futile that is when the politicians all want their hands in the mess, including the power to appoint $25,000 per year directors who do nothing, but don't want to take responsibility for the outcomes.

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