Category Archives: RTA

Chicagoland Transit Agencies on Track for Gov’t-Approved Watchdog

Amid the confusion and chaos of this week’s legislative session in Springfield, the House and Senate passed a groundbreaking bill targeting the fraud, waste and corruption that plagues the Chicago area’s mass transit systems.

The bill’s supporters expect the Governor to approve the measure.

The Better Government Association has been working with Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest), good-government advocates and the RTA to craft legislation that creates an independent inspector general for the transit agency that oversees the RTA, Metra, PACE and CTA.

The resulting bill, Senate Bill 3964, was co-sponsored by Sen. Garret and Rep. Jack Franks (D-Woodstock), and creates an independent inspector general to oversee the boards and employees at RTA, Metra, PACE, and CTA.

The inspector general will be housed in the Office of the Executive Inspector General, which already oversees the activities of the Governor’s office and its agencies.

Sen. Garrett has been working on the legislation with leaders at the transit agencies since last spring when news reports emerged detailing how Metra’s Executive Director Phil Pagano gave himself unapproved payouts on future vacation time. The unauthorized payout of $56,000 came on top of his salary of more than $250,000.

Ultimately, questions surrounding Pagano’s actions lead to his suspension. In May 2010, Pagano, 60, was found dead of an apparent suicide.

The BGA is committed to eliminating fraud, waste, and abuse of public resources. This legislation is an important step toward making the Chicago area’s mass transit systems more open and accountable.

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Filed under CTA, Inspector General, Legislative Update, Metra, Pace, RTA

Free Rides for Seniors Should Not Be State Lawmakers’ Third Rail

Caution: RTA's 'Seniors Ride Free' program a model of inefficiency (Rene S/Flickr)

Illinois’ “Seniors Ride Free” program has never enjoyed a comfortable commute.

Spawned by disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the effort has long been viewed by critics—including those running the state’s transit systems—as an expensive and inequitable gift to elderly riders, many of whom can often afford to pay their own fares.

In fact, a recent University of Illinois study found that one-third of those who take advantage of the program earn more than $50,000 annually.

But now there’s something else to worry about: abuse of the “Seniors Ride Free” program.

A BGA investigation with Fox Chicago News documents widespread misuse and abuse of the senior free pass system in the Chicago area. The problem is costing the taxpayer-supported RTA, which oversees the CTA, Pace and Metra, untold millions of dollars.

And the difficulties don’t end at the border of the Chicago-area transit system. The “seniors ride free” program runs throughout Illinois.

So far, Gov. Pat Quinn and a majority of state lawmakers have not been willing to scrap free rides for seniors. They fear being zapped by the political consequences of reforming, or scuttling, the program.

But considering the results of the BGA/Fox investigation, the time is ripe for state lawmakers to take a long, hard look at this transit perk.

Among the options to ponder:

  • ending the program immediately;
  • instituting “means” testing to weed out higher income riders; or
  • setting a sunset date for the program’s expiration.

Some lawmakers have proposed the free-ride plan become a key part of a larger state financial reform package that includes deep budget cuts and revenue increases, such as an income tax hike.

There’s no signal yet that lawmakers will deal with these dire financial issues when they get back under the Capitol Dome next month for another legislative session.

But at the very least, necessary legislative reform of the bumpy “Seniors Ride Free” program should be on their agenda.

What do you think? Contact your State Lawmaker by using this link, or add a comment below.

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Filed under RTA

RTA to Taxpayers: Scandal? What Scandal?

For months, the Better Government Association and other citizen action groups have been talking with area transit officials about creating an independent Inspector General who will root out waste, fraud and corruption at the area’s transit agencies.

Unfortunately, it appears the RTA—the umbrella authority for Metra, Pace and CTA—is refusing to take this inspector general discussion seriously—despite a troubling series of events that include the recent suicide of Metra’s executive director and the subsequent revelations about his misuse of almost a half million dollars in taxpayer money

To say the RTA lacks a sense of urgency on the Inspector General issue is a gross under-statement.

The BGA and other good government groups have attended IG negotiations throughout the spring, summer and fall, joining representatives from the RTA, Metra, Pace, and the CTA and lawmakers including state Senator Heather Steans, state Senator Susan Garrett, and Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin.

By the end of our last negotiation session in September, it appeared we were making real progress.  Unfortunately, much of what we thought was progress was merely political posturing on the part of the transit officials.

John Gates, the recently appointed RTA Board chairman, agreed that a compromise approach to selecting an IG was needed and that an action plan would be developed.  Gates, along with RTA Board representative Clint Sabin, promised to relay that very message to board members and then ask them to comment.

But that’s not how it turned out.

Not only were the opinions expressed in our negotiations recanted by Gates at the recent RTA Board meeting but also it was apparent that he had not discussed the good government groups’ proposals with other board members.

In fact, based on comments and questions from board members, it appeared that the topic of the IG had not been discussed with them at all.

Adding insult to injury, the RTA’s government relation’s representative audibly snorted and laughed at some of the testimony offered by good government group representatives during the public meeting.

Considering the conduct of its leaders during the last meeting, you have to wonder if the RTA was even in the room during the past five months of negotiations!

It’s as if the RTA has forgotten the reason good government groups support the creation of an independent Inspector General for the transit agencies: someone fell asleep at the switch, and the ensuing scandal cost taxpayers a bundle.

The formation of a strong independent Inspector General office is in the best interest of the RTA customers and the taxpayers—the very people who support the area’s transit system and pay the transit leaders salaries.

Hey RTA: Did you hear that?

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Filed under Inspector General, Metra, Pace, RTA, Uncategorized