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  #5381  
Old Posted Jun 24, 2009, 4:42 PM
ChicagoChicago ChicagoChicago is offline
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Originally Posted by emathias View Post
From the Trib:
CTA Service Cuts Loom



We're far from the only agency with this issue - seems like Obama ought to step in and provide 1 or 2 year operating subsidies to transit agencies until the economy picks up again.
Seems to me that the CTA needs to fix their pension problems, and open their books for inspection. Then they can talk about their budget problems.
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  #5382  
Old Posted Jun 24, 2009, 5:30 PM
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Seems to me that the CTA needs to fix their pension problems, and open their books for inspection. Then they can talk about their budget problems.
1) The CTA can't, on its own, fix the pension problems. At the very least, the city, the state and the employee unions would have to be involved.
2) While the CTA isn't stellar in its transparency, it makes a lot of the information you seek public via reports on a frequent basis.

The way you put it, the CTA would have to solve an intractable problem and be perfectly transparent (according to who?) before they would get the money they need to operate. Can you explain how, exactly, this would help the situation?

Seems to me that allowing service cuts to happen is bad policy no matter how much other reform is necessary. And I know that throwing more money at a sinking ship isn't good policy either. But as has been shown previously in this very thread, the CTA gets more done for less money than almost any big city transportation system in the country.

None of this is to detract from the very serious pension and transparency issues with the CTA. However, just because those items are high on your priority list is no reason to let the system crumble until your demands are met. That type of attitude is simply unproductive.
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  #5383  
Old Posted Jun 24, 2009, 5:36 PM
emathias emathias is offline
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Originally Posted by ChicagoChicago View Post
Seems to me that the CTA needs to fix their pension problems, and open their books for inspection. Then they can talk about their budget problems.
As was noted, the pension issue isn't theirs alone - it's much more a state issue than a CTA or even Chicago issue.

As for inspection, have you not been paying attention at all? They underwent a full audit as part of the last budget crisis and the State's Inspector General (I think that's who did it) concluded that the CTA isn't particularly wasteful. They're not perfect, but there is plenty of hard evidence that they're far more effective than you give them credit for.
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  #5384  
Old Posted Jun 24, 2009, 5:42 PM
ChicagoChicago ChicagoChicago is offline
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Originally Posted by Taft View Post
1) The CTA can't, on its own, fix the pension problems. At the very least, the city, the state and the employee unions would have to be involved.
2) While the CTA isn't stellar in its transparency, it makes a lot of the information you seek public via reports on a frequent basis.

The way you put it, the CTA would have to solve an intractable problem and be perfectly transparent (according to who?) before they would get the money they need to operate. Can you explain how, exactly, this would help the situation?

Seems to me that allowing service cuts to happen is bad policy no matter how much other reform is necessary. And I know that throwing more money at a sinking ship isn't good policy either. But as has been shown previously in this very thread, the CTA gets more done for less money than almost any big city transportation system in the country.

None of this is to detract from the very serious pension and transparency issues with the CTA. However, just because those items are high on your priority list is no reason to let the system crumble until your demands are met. That type of attitude is simply unproductive.
Fair enough on the pension issues. Let it be a state issue. Then the CTA should call out the state.

See to me, I think the first step is transparency. It's a taxpayer funded agency, it should have open records for us to see. I'm amazed that there isn't more outcry for it. And having an inspector general audit the books is great, it should be done in addition to having the books be public record.

I suppose I'm just a little old fashioned though. You call it unproductive, I call it prudence.
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  #5385  
Old Posted Jun 24, 2009, 9:13 PM
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Originally Posted by ChicagoChicago View Post
Fair enough on the pension issues. Let it be a state issue. Then the CTA should call out the state.

See to me, I think the first step is transparency. It's a taxpayer funded agency, it should have open records for us to see. I'm amazed that there isn't more outcry for it. And having an inspector general audit the books is great, it should be done in addition to having the books be public record.

I suppose I'm just a little old fashioned though. You call it unproductive, I call it prudence.
Fair enough.

This issue of transparency does come up a lot, so I'd be interested to know how the CTA performs compared to other transportation agencies or municipal agencies in general. For reference, here is the information the CTA makes available:

The CTA posts ridership updates monthly at this location:
http://www.transitchicago.com/news_i...ipreports.aspx

The CTA posts reports from its board presentations every month. These reports contain high level summaries of financial information as well as a variety of analysis of that data. Find these reports, among others, on this page:
http://m.www.transitchicago.com/abou...entations.aspx

The CTA posts performance data (answering whether they are safe, on-time, clean, etc.) here:
http://m.www.transitchicago.com/news...e_metrics.aspx

One thing I can't find is their detailed yearly budget document. I know I've referenced it before, but its location eludes me.

Anyway, if anyone can shed a bit of light as to how this material (and the fact that they have a FOI officer on staff) compares to other agencies both in and out of Chicago, I'd love to hear about it. While the "lack of transparency" claim gets thrown out there a lot, the CTA doesn't seem either particularly transparent or secretive to me.
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  #5386  
Old Posted Jun 24, 2009, 10:03 PM
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Originally Posted by Taft View Post
Fair enough.

This issue of transparency does come up a lot, so I'd be interested to know how the CTA performs compared to other transportation agencies or municipal agencies in general. For reference, here is the information the CTA makes available:
This page also has a lot of good financial information:

http://www.transitchicago.com/busine...ncebudget.aspx

I agree that transparency is VERY important. The recent Flores/Waugespack TIF transparency legislation is one of the best things to happen in Chicago in a long time.

For the past few years I think the CTA has been pretty good about transparency.
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  #5387  
Old Posted Jun 25, 2009, 12:20 AM
the urban politician the urban politician is offline
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^I am planning on going tonight, and will provide details later.
^ Shawn, did you happen to make it to that meeting?
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  #5388  
Old Posted Jun 25, 2009, 4:19 AM
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Originally Posted by Attrill View Post
This page also has a lot of good financial information:

http://www.transitchicago.com/busine...ncebudget.aspx

I agree that transparency is VERY important. The recent Flores/Waugespack TIF transparency legislation is one of the best things to happen in Chicago in a long time.

For the past few years I think the CTA has been pretty good about transparency.
Nice...thanks for the link.
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  #5389  
Old Posted Jun 25, 2009, 2:53 PM
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  #5390  
Old Posted Jun 25, 2009, 4:02 PM
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How about some basic information:

- The CTA does not control any material funding lever except fares, which are already high and for which it takes a lot of grief if it raises them.

- Transit is a more or less fixed cost system to operate, but we fund it with variable revenue streams (sales/stamp taxes). That's a recipe for problems unless there is a major reserve fund maintained.

- The RTA funding formula overweights suburban services on a per rider basis. The CTA carries 80% of total regional transit ridership.

- The CTA has long been historically underfunded for capital needs

- The CTA did do something about pensions when it issued a billio+ dollar bond to top of its pension fund. The payments on this escalate significantly in the next couple years, which is going to produce more funding crises. By law the CTA cannot do anything about accrued benefits.

- Let's give the CTA some credit for operational improvements that have been made starting with Ron Huberman. It was a major step up.
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  #5391  
Old Posted Jun 26, 2009, 2:45 PM
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^And the state constitution forbids changes to pension benefits already promised. It would take both legislative action and a statewide popular vote to change that, and you can bet the teachers' unions and ASFCME would be intense in their opposition.
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  #5392  
Old Posted Jun 26, 2009, 5:38 PM
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Am I the only one who thinks that pension issues are way too trivial to be in our constitution? It should be a statutory matter.
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  #5393  
Old Posted Jun 26, 2009, 7:04 PM
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Am I the only one who thinks that pension issues are way too trivial to be in our constitution? It should be a statutory matter.
Pensions are huge sums of money - in terms of both employee and employer (taxpayer) contributions. Further, there is a strong propensity for elected officials to avoid making the necessary (e.g. agreed upon by contract) contributions to pension funds each year, to whatever extent they are allowed by law. In recent years, workarounds to avoid making such contributions have consisted of various combinations of (a) pension obligation bonds, borrowing against future tax revenues with interest to make a one time deposit into a pension fund, thereby necessitating either a tax increase or spending cuts from other areas in the future [hopefully after the next election, right?] and (b) playing actuarial games to come to an improperly low contribution amount, both on the employee and employer side. (a) as stated basically just defers actually dealing with a structural revenue/expenditure imbalance to the future with interest, while (b) is largely responsible for why the funded ratio of pensions (assets:liabilities) have a tendency to always go downwards.

If anything, as long as defined benefit pension plans exist for public employees, the constitutional protections against messing with them should be even stronger than they are today to avoid situations like the present. It should be noted that while pension benefits are constitutionally protected from being reduced, there isn't such protection regarding employee/employer contributions, so there is still a lever by which the problem could be tackled (i.e. if employees want a certain level of benefits then a commensurate percentage of their overall compensation should go to pay for it), but as it is there are too many avenues by which elected officials can promise that nobody loses in the short run, so that's exactly what they do.

Another solution would be to phase out defined benefit, and use the portion of overall compensation currently going to employer pension contributions to fund a defined contribution plan, i.e. increase public employee base wages and use the remainder as the employer match for 401k or other voluntary retirement contributions. The problem here is that it would remove a very, very, very large source of money/power for elected officials and union leaders: the billions of pension fund dollars controlled by public pension boards (see Vanecko, Robert)
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  #5394  
Old Posted Jun 26, 2009, 8:01 PM
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Am I the only one who thinks that pension issues are way too trivial to be in our constitution? It should be a statutory matter.
I think you are dead right. I don't know the history of how that particular bit got into the constitution, but I bet it was due to union lobbying.
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  #5395  
Old Posted Jun 27, 2009, 5:26 AM
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If anything, as long as defined benefit pension plans exist for public employees, the constitutional protections against messing with them should be even stronger than they are today to avoid situations like the present.
I understand the problem, but it seems that the strict and inflexible nature of the Illinois constitution prevents the pension system from adapting to changing circumstances. Honestly, what are the political chances of a con-con anytime soon? Voters can be convinced so easily to vote against it.

On the other hand, the alternative involves making the pension system something that is completely under the control of Illinois lawmakers, i.e. the Guinness Book record holder for 'largest collective group of stupid'.

It seems like politicians are screwing public employees over either way, since they have figured out how to game the current system. At least with statutory-level organization of pension, the system can improve if some decent lawmakers are ever elected.

Then again, I myself admitted the unlikelihood of a con-con anytime soon, but if there ever IS one, this problem should be tackled.
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  #5396  
Old Posted Jun 28, 2009, 5:25 AM
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^This clause is why the teachers union pulled out all the stops last year lobbying against a con-con.
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  #5397  
Old Posted Jun 28, 2009, 7:08 AM
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Oh boy... don't get me started on the teachers' union.
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  #5398  
Old Posted Jun 30, 2009, 11:58 AM
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http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2...-sox-park.html

Metra breaks ground on station near Sox park
June 29, 2009 3:49 PM | 26 Comments

More than a year behind schedule, Metra broke ground today on a new station at 35th Street on the Rock Island District Line to serve White Sox fans and college students while giving neighborhood residents another mass-transit option.

The station, at 35th and Federal Streets, is expected to open in the fall of 2010, at least a full year later than what Metra officials said when they announced the project in 2008................
..
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  #5399  
Old Posted Jul 3, 2009, 1:30 PM
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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/0..._n_223500.html

Plan Calls For Midwest High Speed Rail Running At 220 MPH

First Posted: 06-30-09 06:29 PM | Updated: 06-30-09 06:59 PM


CHICAGO (AP) -- When it comes to trains, there's fast and then there's really, really fast.

Advocates on Tuesday unveiled an $11.5 billion plan for a Chicago-St. Louis high-speed line that could cut travel times to two hours from the current five. If built, it would be among the fastest U.S. lines and would rival high-tech systems already in place in Europe and Asia.

Under the proposal, electric-powered trains would zoom the nearly 300 miles between Chicago and St. Louis at up to 220 mph - more than 100 mph faster than diesel-powered trains under a comparatively modest plan already advocated by eight Midwestern governors.

The newer plan is generating excitement among rail enthusiasts, some of whom pooh-pooh the gubernatorial proposal - which envisions trains that reach top speeds of 110 mph - as too conservative.

Tuesday's proposal - the focus of a study released by the non-profit Midwest High Speed Rail Association - would require upgrading tracks and bridges as well as electrifying the line. The estimated price tag doesn't include costs of new trains or maintenance.

With backing from Illinois officials, the ambitious project could be done in time for the 2016 Summer Olympics, which Chicago is bidding to host, said Rick Harnish, the association's executive director. A deadline seven years away, he said, is ambitious but doable.

"You sometimes need an audacious goal," he said. "We also need to catch up to the rest of the world."

The proposal for a 220-mph service is intended to complement, not replace, the governors' plan, Harnish said. The 110 mph trains would serve more communities and make more stops en route, something Harnish and his Chicago-based group supports.

Pluses of the newly proposed electric-train line would include helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Harnish said.

Backers want Illinois to apply for $10 million in federal stimulus funds for further analysis they hope could lead to a detailed plan. Harnish conceded money to foot the total bill of the project may have to come from new taxes or fees.

"But I think the public will accept a new funding stream if it includes paying for new ways of travel," he said.

Skeptics question whether any benefits would justify the cost.

"This is a classic case of a nice idea - but one where the government will end up misallocating dollars," said John Tillman, head of the conservative Illinois Policy Institute. "This would be subsidized travel when there are already ways to get to and from St. Louis and Chicago."

The $11.5 billion would be better spent, he said, on buying 1 million fuel-efficient cars. He also questioned whether electric trains would be more environmentally friendly given that they would likely rely on energy generated by coal-burning plants.

The estimated $10 billion proposal backed by the Midwest governors would join 12 metropolitan areas, including Chicago and St. Louis, in a network with Chicago as its hub. Upgrading existing tracks would enable trains to travel up to 110 mph, according to the plan.

Currently, the top speed of trains running between Chicago and St. Louis, Bloomington and Springfield is just under 80 mph.

The Midwest governors' plan and a California proposal are front runners in the race for $8 billion in federal stimulus cash set aside for high-speed rail. California wants to build 800 miles of high-speed track connecting the San Francisco-San Jose area with Los Angeles and Anaheim.

The only rail service that currently qualifies as high-speed - that is, where trains travel at more than 90 mph - is Amtrak's Acela Express connecting Boston to Washington, D.C.
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  #5400  
Old Posted Jul 3, 2009, 5:09 PM
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The CTA needs to explain delays better. I was at the Grand red line stop last night and was stuck waiting for a northbound train 21 minutes. In that same time frame, 4 southbound trains passed through the station. And in fact, there were a fair amount of people already on the platform when I got there, meaning my 21 minute wait wasn't as long as some people were stuck waiting. I would say there was at the very least a 25 minute gap between trains. I used my cell phone to check the CTA's website for any possible rail alerts, but nothing was posted. And I didn't hear the CTA make any announcements on the reason for the incredibly long gap. It's just not good customer service to provide little to no information on delays.
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