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The Mechanics
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Public Transportation Fri Jan 08 2010

Is Transit Funding Biased?

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A class action lawsuit filed yesterday against the State of Illinois, IDOT, RTA and Metra argues that Chicago's method for funding mass transit discriminates against Latino and African American passengers.

According to the lawsuit, the city's mass transit scheme, adopted in 1983 and re-enacted in 2008, overfunds the Metra, which serves predominately white residents who live the suburbs. As a result of this overfunding, the CTA has "continually tottered on financial ruin -- having to increase fares and having to cut back on services, both of which have had substantial impacts on African American and Hispanic residents in the CTA service area."

The lawsuit points to some key moments in Chicago history, including the formation of the RTA, which was established in 1974 by the Illinois General Assembly to save cash-strapped bus and rail lines, and the Council Wars of 1983, which blocked many of Mayor Harold Washington's appointments to several boards and commissions, including the CTA. The lawsuit notes that soon after Washington won the Democratic Primary in February 1983, politicians began discussing changes to the RTA at a transit summit. During that time, "the predominantly white suburban commuters felt that they had been overpaying for their train service and that they needed to get a much larger share of RTA funding."

In November of the same year, the Illinois Senate adopted new RTA legislation that has lead to the CTA's financial disrepair, and has disproportionately hurt Latinos and African Americans, according to the lawsuit. Prior to the 1983 legislation, the CTA had received 70 percent of suburban Cook County tax revenues while Metra received 30 percent. But under the new legislation, the CTA receives 30 percent of the sales taxes collected in suburban Cook County while Metra/Pace receives 70 percent.

The lawsuit goes on to mention that as a result of this funding method, from 1985 to 2005, CTA riders faced four times more fare increases than Metra riders. During that same time, the CTA increased its fare charges by 122 percent while Metra increased its fares by 30 percent.

"Reductions in CTA routes in my area have become common place over the years," Bronzeville resident Dorothy McGhee, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement. "Access to Metra lines is essentially non-existent. Despite paying my 'fare' share, I have to leave my home hours in advance to reach my children's schools, my job, or other activities. Even then, there is no guarantee that I will arrive to my destinations on time."

The Sun-Times' Fran Spielman reports that Mayor Daley acknowledged that "there's really lack of funding for CTA over many, many years," though he never mentioned race as a factor.

The suit was filed on behalf of two plaintiffs -- McGhee and South Chicago resident Manuel Munguia, who is Mexican American -- by the offices of the Chicago-Kent College of Law Civil Rights/Employment Law Clinic and the Chicago firm Futterman, Howard, Ashley, Watkins & Weltman.

Read the full lawsuit here (pdf).

 
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Elehu / January 8, 2010 4:13 PM

There is a large contingent of people who think everything is based upon race.
The most prominent of these is the President.

jm / January 9, 2010 5:07 PM

Y'know, I've often wondered why it costs me $2 to go one mile [maybe more?] on CTA while I can travel 20+ miles for c.$6 on Metra, and in far greater comfort. I'm not sure the bias is necessarily racial, but it's obviously anti-urban; suburbanites are more than willing to work in the city and then promptly leave. Heaven forbid they should pay for their transport on the same scale as those of us who live here. And it would appear that we city-dwellers subsidize it.

RP / January 10, 2010 2:49 AM

JM-

Ya think it might be because the CTA has to maintain 100% of its facilities, and they are in an expensive urban environment with much more frequent service and station stops, while Metra trains share the tracks with freight and Amtrak trains and thus proportionately pay less? Also, a monthly fare card on CTA is far cheaper than a monthly pass on Metra, and gives you far more transit options. Count your blessings...everything has an upside and a downside.

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