Metra chairman: Public transportation needs more private partners

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CHICAGO – Metra and other public transportation agencies are being confronted with funding needs that government cannot satisfy and more private investment is needed if these agencies are to survive, the head of Chicago’s commuter rail agency says.

Norman Carlson, the chairman of Metra’s board, says that if transportation agencies like his are to be viable, it is not only necessary but proper to encourage more public-private partnerships to leverage the benefit that public transportation brings to business and economic development.

Revenue for public transportation operations and maintenance has declined significantly because the sales-tax-based funding model has changed from a bricks-and-mortar/manufacturing economy to an online and service-based economy, at least in Illinois, he says.

“My concern is that the public model (of funding transportation) is failing,” Carlson says. “Because of the demands on governments, they simply do not have the money due to the costs of social programs. So the role of the private sector is becoming more and more important.”

Carlson’s comments came Thursday at a meeting of the Northwestern University Transportation Center’s Sandhouse Rail Group.

Metra and other agencies will have to be creative and seek these partnerships, Carlson says. He pointed to the early success that Metra has had with bringing “reverse commuters” from Chicago to north suburban Lake County.

The two-year pilot project is being funded by a public-private partnership between Metra and an economic development corporation affiliated with Lake County businesses and governments, including pharmaceutical giant AbbVie.

AbbVie has plans for hire 750 employees a year for five years, a $100 million payroll investment, Carlson says. By comparison, AbbVie’s contribution toward transporting these workers is a fraction of that amount.

“The value we create on a daily basis, to provide access for the people to get to work, is something we need we need to start measuring,” Carlson says.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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