At its August meeting, the RTA Board of Directors will kick off the next regional transit strategic plan with a workshop to discuss key themes for the successor to Invest in Transit.
Adopted in 2018, Invest in Transit sets a bold vision for “Transit as the core of the region’s robust transportation mobility network” and underscores the importance of sustainable, long-term investment in the system to achieving the plan’s stated vision of public transit as the core of the region’s mobility network. The plan has guided the collective work of the Chicago region’s transit agencies, which includes the RTA, the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace, since its passage and yielded success with the passage of Rebuild Illinois in 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to dramatic impacts on transit ridership and funding. As of mid-July 2021, regional ridership has recovered to around 50 percent of 2019 levels. Three federal relief packages helped avoid operational funding crises, but the future remains unclear. It will likely take more than a year to determine “a new normal” of ridership levels for the system as a whole, and relief funding will eventually run out. At that time the regional transit system will need to be financially sustainable again.
In October 2020, RTA staff outlined a Three-Step COVID Recovery Strategy.
The first two steps focused on near-term decisions that were confronting the RTA Board in late 2020 and early 2021 to pass a budget and sustain critical transit during the first waves of the pandemic. The third step of the recovery strategy, to “Engage in Strategic Recovery Planning,” is an opportunity for the RTA to set a longer-term vision with an update of the regional transit strategic plan that will have an outlook of 2023 and beyond. Priorities the RTA identified as important during recovery – funding, service, and transparency – will continue to lead our efforts during the strategic planning process.
Even before the pandemic, the transit system was facing challenges related to limited funding and reduced ridership, as well as long-standing issues related to equity and the environment. All of these issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic and must be central conversation points in this next strategic planning process.
Timeline for the next regional transit strategic plan
Collaborative development of a new strategic direction for the region’s transit system will occur over three phases and include a Strategic Planning track, a Financial Planning track, and a Communications and Engagement track, shown below.
The Strategic Planning track will provide a forum for the RTA Board and stakeholders to set a new vision for the transit system; to identify the capital projects and other supporting elements needed to achieve that vision; and to have insightful conversations about the trade-offs between visionary ideals and funding realities. The purpose of this task is to develop a new Regional Transit Strategic Plan that outlines a shared vision of priorities for the transit systems in 2023 and beyond.
The Financial Planning process will include work to guide and direct the 2022 and 2023 budget development processes while also conducting a longer-term financial planning process culminating with a 10-Year Financial Plan to accompany the Strategic Plan. The purpose of this task is to proactively prepare the region and decisionmakers for future actions that may need to be taken to ensure financial sustainability of transit when federal relief dollars are gone.
The Communications and Engagement track will ensure that the RTA Board, and a broad range of stakeholders including the public remain informed about the process, have opportunities to engage and give input are made aware of outcomes, and have the needed information and tools for implementation once the plan is adopted. The track will include educational materials, means for providing input, and promotion of RTA’s activities so that all interested parties have the opportunity to participate fully.
August Board Workshop
The August workshop with the RTA Board of Directors will provide a forum for Board members to give early input on the key topics that should be addressed in the strategic plan.
The board will address questions including:
- What is the greatest opportunity for impact right now that the Strategic Plan process should address?
- What types of transit system changes should be the focus of this process?
- Which key financial issues should be addressed through the process?
- What are some productive ways for RTA to define, understand, and incorporate equity during this process?
- Who would you as the RTA Board like to hear more directly from during this process?
To be sure to see updates on the strategic plan progress and opportunities to engage, please subscribe to the RTA’s bi-weekly Regional Transit Update.