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Gov. JB Pritzker says “leadership development” is needed at CTA

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SPRINGFIELD – Gov. JB Pritzker called for “leadership development” at the CTA as the agency's embattled president, Dorval Carter, has sought solutions to a looming budget crisis in Springfield.

Carter has found himself in the hot seat as the CTA has struggled to provide frequent, reliable and safe service in recent years. At the same time, the Illinois General Assembly is considering a series of broad recommendations about what transit in the Chicago area might look like in the future, including whether the CTA should be merged into one authority with Metra and Pace and how to address a transit tax cliff that is expected, when federal pandemic aid expires.

On Thursday evening, Pritzker said from his ceremonial office at the Illinois State Capitol that change is needed at CTA and “that will require new leadership and additional leadership.”

“I think there needs to be leadership development to get us where we need to be with CTA,” he said during an unrelated news conference.

Although CTA is based in Chicago, Pritzker has a degree of control over the agency and appoints three of the Transit Board's seven members. And the recommendations being considered by lawmakers have increased the importance of Carter's relationship with state officials.

The recommendations come at a time when the region's public transit agencies face a total budget hole of $730 million once federal COVID-19 relief funds are exhausted, which could come as early as 2025, with cuts and fare increases .

So the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning drafted a series of recommendations sent to lawmakers in December addressing public transit funding, governance and the experience of riding buses and trains. She proposed $1 billion or more in new public funding annually, as well as options for revamping oversight of the region's transit agency and other proposals. Many of the proposals are likely to be politically contentious, making the CTA's relationship with lawmakers crucial during negotiations.

CTA has faced a number of challenges recently, including so-called ghost buses and trains, long wait times and concerns about personal safety, both real and perceived.

Carter came under fire as complaints mounted and caught the attention of some elected officials. Chicago city councilors tried for a year to require Carter and CTA officials to testify regularly before they succeeded. Later, in February, they brought it before the City Council as part of a new requirement that CTA officials appear at quarterly committee hearings.

Pritzker's comments about Carter reflect recent views out of Springfield about how state officials believe the CTA needs improvements under his leadership.

Just last week, the Illinois Senate unanimously passed bipartisan legislation related to a serious collision between a CTA train and a snowplow in November near the Chicago-Evanston border that injured at least 16 people, including seven CTA employees. The measure now before the House for consideration would require annual reports from the CTA, the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Regional Transportation Authority and Metra, which would also detail safety recommendations made over a one-year period by National Transportation Safety Board and the status of their implementation.

The reports setting out the recommendations and the progress of the transport authorities in implementing these recommendations by December 31 of each year must be accessible both to the public online and to the General Assembly.

Sarah Freishtat reported from Chicago.