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Chicago transportation a mess, RTA has no oversight

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Suppose you were building a transportation system that would serve a population of nearly ten million on trains, buses and elevated lines. Would it make more sense to have one agency or four agencies directing all that traffic?

Well, if you ride the CTA, Metra or Pace, all part of the RTA, you may already know the answer.

"You would never construct this type of system…because it works against itself," said former head of the Regional Transportation Authority Steve Schlickman.

Schlickman calls it the four-headed monster.

From 2005 to 2010, Schlickman headed the Regional Transportation Authority where he saw firsthand what happens when four separate chefs try to cook the transit stew.

"It defies organizational principles. It confuses accountability. It prevents seamless coordination of services. It doesn't allow us to speak with one voice when we're in pursuit of funding either at the federal or state level," said Schlickman.

Four separate agencies means four separate boards, and altogether that is a total of 47 board members, many of whom are appointed for political reasons.

"I think riders are just fed up," said former State Senator Susan Garrett.

Garrett led the legislative investigation into former Metra Chief Phil Pagano who committed suicide in 2010 by throwing himself in front of a Metra train.

An investigation revealed Pagano had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars in undeserved salary and vacation pay.

Pagano's replacement, Alex Clifford, resigned last year after alleging he was pressured by democratic speaker Mike Madigan to give a raise to a politically connected employee.

In both cases, the oversight agency was in the dark.

"The RTA is set up, it reminds me of a circle. There's no oversight, there's no real authority. So it makes sense that things can go wrong," said Garrett.

The lack of one unified agency also means Chicago area commuters face a wide variety of fares and fare card systems, including the problem-plagued Ventra Card rollout on the CTA.

There's also the 19 billion dollars in capital repairs that are needed with each separate agency hiring its own lobbyists to compete for basically the same pool of money in Springfield and Washington.

The problems seem ongoing.

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