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Only 0.7 percent of federal transportation funds are spent on improving pedestrian facilities.

Metra: Let’s spend scarce public dollars on service, not scandals

/If you’ve been reading the news, you likely know that Metra is embroiled in a scandal — with new revelations making headlines nearly every week.

First, Metra CEO Alex Clifford resigned his post with a near-record-breaking golden parachute. Then allegations followed about improprieties by transit board members, including political pressure on hiring, double-dipping (collecting two government paychecks), dodging court-ordered repayments, misrepresenting home addresses and covering up misdeeds.

Calls for reform have started to echo across the region to prevent future scandals.

Needless to say, public trust in the nation’s second biggest commuter rail system, Metra, is broken. It must be restored. But will riders be left with empty political reforms that capture headlines but leave transit underfunded and broken?

Tell our transit leaders: Don’t just fix the scandals, fix transit service!

The recent scandal and its fallout have become a distraction from another scandal that has slipped under the radar for years — how Chicagoland’s transit is failing our region. These failures are problems our region’s leaders would rather not face:

  • Chronic funding shortfall necessitating repeated fare increases — including Metra’s largest ever in 2011.
  • Transit funding remains insufficient to cover even 25 percent of the cost of keeping our buses, trains, and rails in a state of good repair.
  • The need for new and expanded transit service given that only 12 percent of suburban residents can get to a typical job in less than 90 minutes on transit, according to the Brookings Institute.
  • And where are modernizations craved by Metra riders? A unified CTA and PACE fare card so riders can skip ticket lines? What about real-time train trackers? How about WiFi on trains?

As Gov. Quinn and transit leaders rush to fix the Metra leadership mess, move past scandals, and restore public trust, we need to ensure they don’t ignore these daunting problems that impact riders.

Please join me in reminding key transit leaders that despite this scandal, what matters most are transit riders. Urge them to implement reforms focused on actually fixing transit service, not just fixing scandals.