As we head into 2017, I wanted to take a moment to look back on 2016 and share what the RTA has accomplished. We think of you, the riders, in all we do. We are proud to serve you every day and look forward to continuing to do so in 2017 and beyond.
When I became the Chairman of the RTA Board of Directors in the summer of 2014, I joined the RTA staff and directors in their work to advance public transportation in our six county region. You may recall that I was a state senator for twenty years and served two governors of our great state. I knew transit was important then but I have learned even more in the past few years.
I could have guessed that transit is important to our regional and state economy but the hard data is even more revealing than I’d anticipated. When one looks at the jump in property values and the boon to economic development that access to transit brings, one clearly sees the importance of this system that our grandparents and parents passed on to us. Other cities all over the country are laying rail and track and buying buses to keep up with us; to get a piece of this pie that we had served up to us by our predecessors. We must find the funding we need to maintain and enhance it. Earlier in my career, I knew intuitively that employers seek out our region for our talented workforce, but when I listen to business owners talk about the importance of attracting the next generation of workers to our area—a generation that is far less interested in driver’s licenses than mine was—I get a very clear understanding of the importance of transit in our region. Tax dollars are limited in Illinois and with every purchase made in our region, a portion of the sales tax collected goes to operating these all important trains and buses. We all invest in our system every day and we must continue to do so for the generations to come.
The RTA may not be a familiar face to you. The CTA, Metra and Pace do the work of providing rides in our region. The RTA was created to balance out their interests, make sure their budgets are in line with the state’s requirements, coordinate transit at a regional level, and advocate for the operating and capital funding that is so crucial to our system’s continued success. In our region, the majority of the two million rides on transit each day are on CTA, but Metra trains carry passengers more than 20 miles on an average trip. Without our suburban rail system, one that I take nearly every day, it’s been estimated we’d have to add 29 more lanes to our already congested highways. Pace is one of the country’s largest suburban bus systems, with an innovative Bus on Shoulder program that is growing each year, and providing millions of ADA Paratransit rides to regional residents with disabilities.
We believe in transparency. The RTA streams our board meetings live each month, posts regional financial, planning, budgetary and more information on our website. We have begun working with our partners to craft the region’s next Regional Transit Strategic Plan that will look out to 2023. That seems a long way off now, but it will be here before we know it. Hello, 2017!