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A thriving region requires public transit

co-authors: Rachel Gaunce and Hugo Coronado, MPC Associates

Reimagining a World Class Transit System for Illinois

MPC is part of two coalitions that are working together to advance state sustainable transportation reforms – the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition and Partners for Action on Reimagining Transit. For the past year, MPC has coordinated a working group including members of both coalitions to support legislators in developing landmark regional transit reform legislation.  

A growing chasm in transit operations funding brought together a wide range of stakeholders over the past year to discuss a future transit vision and funding options, culminating in the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s broadly supported Plan of Action for Regional Transit.   That report re-envisions a transit system that supports a vibrant economy, provides affordable mobility, enables equitable access to opportunities, helps address the climate crisis, and improves public health. The Metropolitan Mobility Authority Act (HB5823) and companion appropriations bill (HB5828) are the next steps in making that exciting transit future a reality.   

Investing in transit is vital to strengthening our state and regional economy and reinforcing our standing as a world-class region. Fully three-quarters of the state’s GDP comes from Northeastern Illinois; and transit enables people to move around the region to make and spend money.  The pressure is on.  Chicago’s regional transit system used to have the second-largest number of riders in the country, but in 2023, the Los Angeles region overtook us.  And other regions are trying to build what we already have. To stay competitive, Northeastern Illinois needs to commit to both restructuring how we manage transit and coming up with the funding to run reliable trains and buses where people need them.  

Over the years, multiple policy organizations and task forces have recommended reforming the region’s transit governance structures to address current issues such as agencies competing for ridership and grants, fragmented service, and lack of integrated fare structure. Now is the time to implement a new leadership format so robust transit supports walkable, livable places; mobility for seniors, and affordable transportation for the increasing numbers of people that can’t afford a car. This legislation establishes a new, fully integrated regional Metropolitan Mobility Authority that will plan, fund and operate all the Chicago region’s transit seamlessly, centered on rider needs. 

By 2026, Chicago area transit will face a dramatic operations funding shortfall.  But the reality is transit’s never been funded properly.  It’s time to get beyond making last-minute and inadequate fixes to the latest “transit doomsday”.  It’s time for us to stop treating public transit as optional.  That’s certainly not how we treat our roads, which aren’t even useable by anyone who doesn’t drive or have access to a vehicle (which is estimated at up to one third of the population). A companion appropriations bill establishes a new fund for at least $1.5 billion in annual new transit operations funding to deliver an exciting transit future. One that we need. It truly is not an option to allow nearly half the Northeastern Illinois transit system to shut down, resulting in paralyzing levels of traffic and leaving many unable to reach their jobs or meet other critical daily needs.   

Investing in transit is fundamental to creating healthy, accessible places people want to live.  This proposal is also part of a nation-leading package of comprehensive transportation and jobs bills from the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition. The Clean & Equitable Transportation Act components work together to provide Illinoisans clean, affordable, and equitable transportation options. In addition to Metropolitan Mobility Authority Act, the Transportation Choices Act (SB 3934 and HB 5825) sets targets for the transportation sector to be 100% carbon neutral by 2050, and the Zero Emissions Transportation Bill (HB5824) establishes standards that increase the availability and reliability of zero-emissions vehicles, including shifting public fleets and building out charging infrastructure. MPC can’t wait to see this exciting future vision become a reality.  Please join us!  For more information about proposed transit legislation, visit