Public Transportation Should Get Dedicated Funding, Advocates Say

By Erica Demarest on February 25, 2013 1:52pm | Updated on February 25, 2013 7:33pm

 Peter Skosey, vice president of the Metropolitan Planning Council, speaks Monday at a transit summit in the Loop.
Peter Skosey, vice president of the Metropolitan Planning Council, speaks Monday at a transit summit in the Loop.
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DNAinfo/Erica Demarest

THE LOOP — Dedicated public transportation funding could dramatically improve the quality of your commute, transit officials and community leaders said Monday.

“There’s dedicated funding for roads, but not transit,” said Erin Evenhouse, 25, who works with Transportation for America.

Her comments came during the nonprofit Active Transportation Alliance's “better transit” summit in the Loop. Employees from the CTA, RTA, Metra and Pace were on hand as community groups and local activists debated public policy and transit funding.

Extra funding is crucial for improvements such as Wi-Fi on trains or more comfortable train platforms, said Randy Blankenhorn, executive director of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

“It’s not just enough to fix" what’s wrong, Blankenhorn said. “We want to be people’s first choice, not their last option. … And better cars, better stops, better stations are not free.”

Increasing the gasoline tax to cover public transportation expenses was a popular idea at the summit.

Peter Skosey, vice president of the Metropolitan Planning Council, said the federal gas tax has not been raised since 1993. Simply accounting for inflation could generate billions, he said.

But not everyone appreciated the idea.

“From an environmental perspective, raising the gas tax makes sense,” said Kim Van Horn, 45, of the Field Foundation of Illinois. “But there are a lot of low-income communities that don’t have access to public transportation. These policies hurt those communities.”

Jacky Grimshaw, vice president of policy for the Center for Neighborhood Technology, pointed to Los Angeles’ sales tax approach.

In November 2008, she said, Los Angeles county voters approved a ballot measure that added a half-cent sales tax to fund public transportation. Grimshaw said the move only costs each taxpayer about $25 per year.

“That’s the same as a week of grande lattes,” Grimshaw said.

Despite any differences of opinion, attendees said they were thrilled to network with other transit officials and community organizers.

“A lot of riders are frustrated with the lack of progress with our transit system,” said Lee Crandell, 32, the transportation alliance's director of campaigns. “People won’t settle for the status quo anymore.”

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