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Taking PART in the Region’s Transit Governance Conversation


What is the optimal governance structure to plan, fund and operate transit in the Northeastern Illinois region? The Plan of Action for Regional Transit (PART) issued in December by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) proposed two scenarios centralizing regional transit governance. In late April, legislation (HB5823 and SB 3937) was introduced in the Illinois General Assembly establishing a new Metropolitan Mobility Authority (MMA) and giving it responsibility for planning and providing public transportation services in the Chicago region through consolidation of the Regional Transportation Authority and the three service providers—the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace—into a single, vertically integrated regional transit agency. Legislative action on transit governance reform, and the companion effort to increase operating funding for transit service by $1.5 billion per year, is being spurred by a projected annual shortfall of approximately $750 million starting in 2026, a desire for more robust transit service in the region, and a firm belief that only an integrated transit entity will be able to deliver the reliable transit service needed for the metro area to thrive.  

Background: “It’s Complicated”  

Currently, public transportation governance in the Chicago region is distributed in a way that does not encourage regional thinking, planning, or investment. The RTA and each of the service providers now have their own boards of directors, as well as plan and operate transit independently. Various appointing authorities within subregions elect directors for the transit agency boards and the RTA that focus on individual geographies. The current arrangement produces a fractured rider experience and frustrates efforts to efficiently integrate regional transit operations. 

This graphic illustrates the highly complex status quo: 

Source: CMAP Plan of Action for Regional Transit for Northeastern Illinois, p. 100

PART Report 

Last year, as directed by the General Assembly, CMAP released the PART Report, which addresses transit funding and governance challenges facing the Chicago region and outlines two options for transit governance reform. Option one merges the Regional Transportation Authority and the three service providers—the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace—into a single, vertically integrated regional transit agency called the Metropolitan Mobility Authority (MMA), replacing four boards of directors with a single regional MMA board. Option two keeps the current agencies and boards in place but would give the RTA significantly more powers than it has today. The Metropolitan Mobility Authority Act would implement and build on CMAP’s Option one recommendation. 

The PART Report advances the following principles to guide transit agency board structures and director appointments, applicable to both governance options: 

  1. Design board appointments and voting structures to advance regional progress while building local consensus; 
  1. Integrate more regional perspectives; 
  1. Provide a greater role for the state, especially as it increases its funding support; 
  1. Appoint board members with relevant and diverse experience; 
  1. Provide avenues for local input; and 
  1. Ensure that regional board members reflect population, ridership, and funding sources. 

We focus here on providing information relevant to CMAP’s Recommendation #6.  

Governing Board Seats: How Many, and For Whom? 

This section provides information on population, ridership, and funding to inform decisions on allocating regional agency board seats among subregion appointing authorities. As noted below, the RTA and the service boards do not publicly share certain pertinent data and, to date, have not supplied the missing data in response to a request for such. The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) will update this analysis if such missing data becomes available. 

The appointing authorities for the RTA board today represent three subregions: (i) the City of Chicago; (ii) Cook County outside of Chicago (suburban Cook); and (iii) the five collar counties—DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will counties. The MPC has assembled data that sheds light on the contributions each of the subregions make to the Chicago region’s public transportation system. Each subregion’s contribution can be mapped against its representation on the RTA board today and the MMA board as it would exist under the MMA Act as introduced.  

Population and Ridership 

Transit moves people, and ridership is a key marker of the performance of a transit system. Fares paid by riders provide crucial operating revenue for transit agencies. CTA bus and rail provide over 85% of all transit trips in the region:  

Calendar Year 2023


In Northeastern Illinois, each subregion contributes significant population, but the proportion of the population that uses transit currently varies substantially.

Population and Ridership

Sources: Population:  U.S. Census Bureau,; Transit trips:  National Transit Database. Shares of trips by subregion: unpublished data estimates for 2015, 2017, and 2018, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.  


Taxes Paid 

The public in each subregion pays taxes — primarily sales and use taxes — that support public transit in the region. The City of Chicago uses a real estate transfer tax to provide additional funding for the CTA and both Chicago and Cook County are required by statute to contribute small additional amounts of transit funding. The public funding by subregion is shown below.

Public Funding, 2023, by Subregion

Note: Tax revenues include RTA sales and use taxes; real estate transfer taxes in Chicago; and statutorily required payments from the City of Chicago and Cook County. 
Note 2: 2023 ICE figures are included; collar county RTA sales taxes levied and retained by counties are excluded. 
Sources: Regional Transportation Authority Mapping and Statistics and the Illinois Department of Revenue; . RTA 2023 Budget; Illinois Department of Revenue for the Chicago Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT).

Fares Paid

In addition to paying taxes that support transit, transit riders from each subregion help fund the system through the fares they pay. It is a shortage of such fare revenue due to depressed post-pandemic ridership that helps account for the fiscal cliff that the transit agencies in the region face in 2026. The fares contributed by rides originating in each subregion are as follows: 

Fares Revenues, 2023, by Subregion

Source: RTA’s unaudited fare revenue figures for 2023

Source: Data showing the amount of fares paid for transit trips originating in each subregion are not publicly available. MPC’s calculation of fares for rides originating in each subregion starts with CMAP’s estimates of the percentage of total system ridership generated by each subregion by service board. Those percentages for each service board are multiplied against the total 2023 passenger fare revenue figure for each service board providing service in the subregion. This results in an estimate of fares paid from each subregion for transit trips originating in that subregion. Note that this calculation assumes that every trip provided by a service board is at the average fare for that service board. Actual fares paid vary based on a variety of factors, including Metra’s zonal fare structure and variances in the geographical distribution of riders using passes or paying reduced fares. MPC will update this analysis if the RTA or the service boards make available actual data showing fares paid for trips originating in each subregion. 

Total Financial Contribution, 2023, by Subregion

Source: See sources for previous tables 

The following chart maps the various contributions of each subregion to the Chicago metropolitan region’s transit system against the appointment power of each subregion to the board of that regional transit system.  

Subregion Contributions Compared to Subregion Board Seat Appointments 

Source: See sources for previous tables 

Putting It All Together 

While transportation is a regional phenomenon, with riders often crossing political boundaries to get to their destinations, the current structure for funding and governing transit in northeastern Illinois is subregional, with different levels of taxation and different numbers of board appointments among jurisdictions.  

Today, the RTA Board consists of five directors chosen by the Mayor of the City of Chicago, five directors from Cook County, and one director from each of the five collar counties (DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, Will). This means that each board seat represents one-fifteenth (6.7%) of the seats appointed by the subregions, and five seats represents 33.3 percent of such seats. The MMA Act, described by its sponsors as a “conversation starter,” retains this allocation of appointments for the MMA Board. The MMA Act adds three director appointments by the Governor in consideration of the funding provided by the State.   

The MMA Act reframes the appointment process into a procedure to appoint the most highly qualified board members without regard to their subregion residency. It gives the subregion appointing authorities the right to select qualified directors from anywhere in the Chicago metropolitan region. The MMA Act also charges directors to make their decisions in the interest of the metropolitan region rather than just representing a subregion within it. While balancing factors like population, ridership, and funding are important for fairness in the allocation of regional transit board appointments, the MMA Act requires each MMA director to do the right thing for the entire region and not just the subregion that appointed the director. 

A key point of discussion in the ongoing conversation about regional transit governance is whether the proposed allocation of director appointments among the City of Chicago, Cook County, and the collar counties meets CMAP’s recommendation that regional transit board seats should be allocated such that the composition of the board reflects “population, ridership, and funding sources.” The funding sources used to address the transit fiscal cliff may materially change the relative share of the financial contributions made by the subregions. This underscores the conjoined nature of the transit funding and governance reform efforts as reflected in CMAP’s PART Report. Additional consideration of how reform legislation can help ensure that happens should be welcome as conversations continue in the Chicago region and in Springfield.  


The CMAP PART Report recommended that transit agency governance in the Chicago region reflect population, ridership, and funding. MPC has used this blog post to assemble data to help inform the conversation about the optimal transit agency governance structure to deliver affordable, equitable, sustainable, and economically beneficial public transit services throughout the Chicago region.