The problem is a lack of adequate state funding claims the RTA who oversees and divides the existing funding among the CTA, Metra and PACE operations.
There is more to the story that isn't being reported on. The funding crisis goes beyond public transit and effects the road infrastructure as well. One must ask, what are the underlaying causes and the answers aren't simple.
- The CTA has an old rail infrastructure that is in desperate need of repair. Rail operations inherently are more expensive and far less flexible than bus operations to start with. This often leads to putting off needed repairs to the infrastructure.
- The CTA also has had far from stellar management over the years. Internal waste at the CTA is rampant.
- Having an "umbrella agency" structure also doesn't help. The RTA who distributes the funds among the 3 operating agencies takes a slice of the operating pie to run the show.
- Look at the city itself. There are 5 major transit systems in critical and dire straits currently. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. A common thread among all 5 of these cities is that they've been controlled by Democrats for decades (all also have well established rail operations).
- Chicago's transit ills have recently gotten worse as they have been selected as the city for the United States bid to host the 2016 Olympics. What does this mean? More strain on the system due to required transit projects that will have to be done. While this may get them some funding to fix the infrastructure, it also means less money will be available to operate.
While adequate and reliable funding for public transit is needed, little is usually done to stem the internal hemorrhaging of money within the system. In a sense, increased funding is little more than a Band-Aid being placed on a torn artery with how public transit is run currently. The core problem that creates the need for increased funding is rarely repaired and that leads to more problems in the following years.
The funding crisis in Pennsylvania, for example, is forcing PAT and SEPTA to finally start addressing many of the core problems within their agencies. The RTA in Chicago is still trying to ignore the core problems and address it with another financial Band-Aid with the hope that the influx of funds will balance out the cash hemorrhage.
With public transit being turned into a social service thanks to years of government ownership, nobody in charge is willing to do what has to be done for fear of the backlash. All 5 cities I have mentioned have another common thread which is that they run mostly on historical routes and all systems need a complete route overhaul to streamline the operation. Such route overhauls are never popular but if the system is to survive, it is something that has to be done.
While I disagree with Illinois' state government for putting transit funding on the back burner, it may be what is needed to force the RTA and the three Chicago transit operations to clean house and start addressing the cancer that has been slowly killing them for years.