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Bus riders account for more than 20 percent of people using Lake Shore Drive every day while taking up a fraction of the space that cars do.

Leadership change will help Metra move beyond controversy

The recent controversy over the resignation of former Metra executive director Alex Clifford is seriously compromising the ability of Metra to address the important issues affecting the quality of Metra's service. /

The situation called for a change in Metra Board leadership, and with the resignation of Chairman Brad O'Halloran, Metra should begin to rebuild public trust and refocus on providing better transit service.

The Clifford controversy is based on allegations of political interference in the operations of Metra. The Active Transportation Alliance calls on elected officials who oversee transit agencies and appoint board members to ensure that agencies are represented on the board by qualified professionals who are also strong advocates for transit and who in turn will appoint the most professional executive to lead each agency.

While these professionals should be held accountable for transit performance, they should also operate free of political intervention with a focus on improving transit performance for existing riders and attracting new riders.

With this in mind, we encourage the Illinois House Mass Transit Committee to investigate the pros and cons of new methods of designating transit agency board members, including through popular election.

This controversy is an unfortunate distraction from a long list of problems that face Metra as well as CTA and PACE.

Only 12 percent of suburban residents can get to a typical job in less than 90 minutes on transit, according to research by the Brookings Institute. This helps explain why Metro Chicago ranks just eleventh nationally for per capita transit ridership.

Recent fare increases necessitated by chronic funding shortfalls – including Metra’s largest fare increase ever in 2011 – have been insufficient to overcome system deterioration that RTA chair Robert Gates says will only get worse.

Service problems and higher fares have led to far weaker transit growth here than in peer regions like New York and Boston.

A study prepared for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce estimates that future transit funding is on track to only meet one-quarter of what is needed to keep the existing system in a state of good repair, not to mention any new transit service.

The study also finds that failing infrastructure could decrease ridership by 20 percent, and that declining transit service could result in the loss of 15,000 to 40,000 direct jobs.

In order to tackle these pressing needs, Metra needs to put this controversy behind it by openly taking steps to address and prevent concerns of political interference.