October 1, 2013

Mayor: Transit key to Chicago's economic edge

From left to right: Forrest Claypool, Peter Varga, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Peter Rogoff, Flora Castillo, Terry Peterson and Michael Melaniphy at APTA’s Opening General Session on Monday.

From left to right: Forrest Claypool, Peter Varga, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Peter Rogoff, Flora Castillo, Terry Peterson and Michael Melaniphy at APTA’s Opening General Session on Monday.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel discussed how he sees public transportation as a key component to Chicago’s economic competitiveness, during APTA’s 2013 Annual Meeting Opening General Session on Monday.

To solidify his point, Emanuel described major projects and renovations the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has undertaken, including the rebuilding of six new stations, spurring real estate transactions to grow and property values to rise by nearly 50% near a new station. Other resulting benefits from the improvements included McCormick Place convention center moving from fifth to second position as the Best Site for the convention industry.

 “When you take all the work on our mass transit system — stations, rail, all the security — 5,000 people in the city are at work rebuilding the CTA from top to bottom,” Emanuel said. “Putting people to work and helping our city to be that much more economically competitive.”

He cited that in the last two years, 21 companies have put their headquarters in the city of Chicago, with the transit system being the selling point.

Emanuel credited CTA President Forrest Claypool for his ability to eliminate a $300 million structural deficit without a fare increase, which included reaching an agreement with the major unions and not receiving a bailout from the state capital. In closing, Emanuel discussed the economic challenges faced by all transit systems.

“All of us are in the same place,” he said. “Our state capitals, our national capital have not stepped up to help public transportation. We have to do this on our own. We have to come up with innovative ways to continue to move forward.”

Also during the Opening General Session, current APTA Chair Flora Castillo passed the leadership baton to incoming 2013-2014 Chair Peter Varga, CEO of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based The Rapid. Castillo talked about coming to America as an immigrant from El Salvador in 1981 and how working in public transportation and becoming the first Hispanic chair, and sixth female chair, of APTA was “an opportunity of a lifetime.”

Incoming Chair Varga also talked about his immigrant background and his rise through the ranks from a New York City cab driver, a bus driver in Santa Cruz, Calif., and ultimately, as head of The Rapid. He challenged the audience to “organize, energize and authorize,” a reference to the two-year authorization bill that has already reached the halfway mark.

Young riders, millennials and Generation X were also prevalent themes in Varga’s speech, which was the basis for the tagline of his tenure: “America’s future is riding on public transportation.”

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