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Our view: Reforming region's transit systems

Published: Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

McHenry County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill’s plan to replace longtime GOP insider Al Jourdan on the Regional Transportation Authority Board seems reasonable enough in the short term.

But we reiterate our call for a complete overhaul of the agencies that oversee public transportation in Chicago and the suburbs.

Jourdan’s term on the RTA board expired April 1. But because of turmoil at RTA and Metra (which the RTA oversees), reappointment has been delayed.

Under a plan unveiled last week, Jourdan will remain on the RTA board while Hill seeks a successor. State law gives Hill the power to nominate McHenry County’s RTA Board representative. The full County Board must approve Hill’s nomination.

Under the current system, the RTA serves as a sort of parent agency to Metra, Pace bus and the Chicago Transit Authority. Each of these agencies has its own operating board, and each of these boards’ members earn a salary and benefits. When all board positions are filled, taxpayers spend $825,000 on just the salaries of these part-time board members.

To be clear: That’s four boards to oversee public transportation in the Chicago region; and $825,000 in salaries (not including benefits) for a group of people that meets a handful of times a year.

That’s too much. It leaves the door open for the kind of patronage, corruption and outright waste of taxpayer money we’ve seen in recent years.

On Thursday, Gov. Pat Quinn signed an executive order creating an independent panel that will suggest reforms for the transportation agencies. Former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald will sit on the panel. That’s a good start. We look forward to seeing the panels suggestions.

Ours are these:

It makes more sense to have one agency set priorities and oversee all public transportation needs for the Chicago region. Each of the six counties in the region would have a representative on the board – selected through a popular vote every two years by the residents of each respective county, so officeholders are accountable directly to taxpayers. Cook County can have three elected members.

We realize it’s not going to happen overnight, but the existing board structure does not best serve the needs of the public.

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