Testimony at the Joint Transportation and Public Safety Infrastructure Appropriations Subject Matter Committee Hearing
Joint Transportation and Public Safety / Infrastructure Appropriations Subject Matter Committee Hearing
Illinois General Assembly
March 14, 2023
My name is Audrey Wennink, senior director at the Metropolitan Planning Council. MPC is an independent, nonprofit research and policy organization that advocates for sustainable and equitable urban planning solutions.
Illinois absolutely must retain an expansive transit system for the state and region’s economic health, public health, and environmental health. However, the impending transit funding cliff forces us to ask hard question about the structure of our future transit system. In the next year legislators are going to be asked to make some important and tough decisions. Now is the time to be preparing for that.
So, why do we need transit?
- As noted in the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Transit Means Business report, a growing and thriving transit system means a growing and thriving economy. The COVID pandemic highlighted dramatically the link between transit and the ability for our region to staff the many industries where in-person work is required, such as hospitals, manufacturing, grocery stores, hotels and restaurants. We need transit to keep a wide range of businesses running and to keep people employed.
- Transit is sustainable – transportation is the #1 contributor to climate change, which is felt more harshly in low-income communities. Maintaining the extensive transit system in our region and state is one of the best ways to reduce the environmental impact of transportation. We must preserve and expand transit to reduce the amount of emissions from driving. Electrifying cars is not enough. Transit supports sustainable, walkable land uses and greater overall state and regional resilience.
- Transit is affordable – Many households cannot afford a car or want to get around the region without driving. In fact, in the city of Chicago, more than one quarter of households have no cars. In the greater Chicago region one in 10 households have no cars. A lot of people need transit to live their lives.
- Transit is for everyone – American society underappreciates the large share of people that cannot or do not drive – up to 1/3 of the population doesn’t drive. That includes people with disabilities, the aging population, the poor and children/teens. Society must provide the ability to get around without driving. Communities all over the state want to enable their residents to age in place and need transit to stay competitive. Public transit underpins a society where everyone of all ages and abilities can access education, healthcare, employment and recreation.
The bottom line is we need to evolve service so that it is very competitive, appealing and works for everyone. We need to be flexible and nimble in adapting as future needs evolve. With the second largest transit system in the U.S., northeastern Illinois is one of the few places that offers this type of sustainable lifestyle that future generations want. The transit systems in the State of Illinois are some of our biggest assets. Many people move to the Chicago region for the express purpose of living a life without having to own or drive a car. A vibrant transit system is a way to futureproof our state and region on many levels.
Now is the time to double down on developing a vision for the future of transit in a post COVID world. We know we need to fix the problems of today while also addressing the problems of tomorrow. This also means asking hard question about future transit governance and finance to deliver that transit service.
The governance structure for transit in Northeast IL has not changed in 40 years. But our mobility needs have. We need to ask hard questions like whether we need to have four separate boards of directors overseeing four different transit agencies in Northeast Illinois. Who is appointing these boards? What overlap is there? Does this support good regional decision-making and service coordination? What other models are out there that we should consider. There will likely be proposals coming to the General Assembly next session to update these structures so that we can get the greatest benefits out of our transit investments. We need to be ready. We look forward to some ambitious recommendations coming out of the CMAP Plan for Action for Regional Transit that we will need to seriously consider.
We are going to have to make some hard decisions. But the cost of inaction is too high. There is no question that Illinois needs to do more to support transit. The Metropolitan Planning Council thanks this committee for the opportunity to speak to you today and looks forward to providing information and technical support in the coming months as we all work together to address the future of transit.