Hearing Discusses Economic Impact of Mass Transit in Illinois

The first of several hearings took place Tuesday dealing with the state of public transit in Illinois.

A number of hearings will take place throughout the coming months to discuss the state of public transit, ranging from how it positively impacts Illinois’ economic and public health system to the service improvements that need to take place.

With the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) currently facing a $730 million budget shortfall in 2026, Illinois lawmakers are searching for answers.

The chair of the Illinois Senate Transportation Committee, state Sen. Ram Villivallam, D-Chicago, said there is business to take care of before any state funding is discussed or handed out.

“Unless we address service, governance and the corresponding reforms that are needed to give our residents, the taxpayers in the RTA region, the confidence that this system will be one that meets the once-in-a-generation opportunity to recreate a safe, reliable, accessible, equitable and environmentally conscious and economically impactful public transportation system,” said Villivallam.

One proposal would create a new entity, the Metropolitan Mobility Authority (MMA), which would replace the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, Pace and the Regional Transportation Authority. Supporters of the MMA say siloed agencies have long competed for funding and are not delivering dependable service to riders. The leaders of the agencies have pushed back at the merger idea.

Ridership numbers plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic and have never recovered. Still, Kirk Dillard, chairman of the RTA board of directors, said public transit plays a key role in the Illinois economy.

“The RTA service area represents 74% of all the economic activity in Illinois, and the system has enormous economic impacts despite being underfunded for decades,” said Dillard.

Several more hearings on the matter will take place in the coming months, with the next one slated for July 24.

“These hearings will serve as a place for these conversations to occur, and ensure we are working toward the common goal of providing safe, reliable, accessible, economically impactful and environmentally conscious transportation for all,” said Villivallam.