Rocky Donahue will retire at the end of the year; General Manager / Chief Operating Officer Melinda Metzger will assume the role on January 1, 2022
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, IL – At this morning’s meeting, Pace’s Board of Directors approved the agency’s proposed 2022 budget. Pace held eight public hearings on its proposed 2022 Operating and Capital Budget Programs, 2022-2024 Financial Plan for Operations, and 2022-2026 Capital Plan. Public input provided at these hearings was presented to board members. The budget now goes to the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) for approval at their December meeting. The historic budget includes $15 million for new fixed route service, regional partnerships with transportation network companies, and demand response service. It also includes the largest infrastructure expansion in the agency’s history with an investment of more than $300 million in capital projects (thanks to Rebuild Illinois), including a $10 million electric bus pilot at Waukegan’s North Division.
Chairman Rick Kwasneski reported that he was appointed to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Executive Committee at the recent APTA TRANSform Conference and Expo earlier this month. There are now four Illinoisians on the committee of 25, including Committee Chairman Jeff Nelson of QC MetroLINK in Rock Island, CTA President Dorval Carter, and Metra CEO and Executive Director James Derwinski.
Rocky Donahue, after thanking Pace staff for their continued dedication and service, reported that the 2021 YTD budget showed that Pace was operating fixed route services well within budget using only fare revenue and sales tax, not any federal relief funds. “This is not by accident or by luck,” said Donahue. “We developed a financial strategy early on in the pandemic to continue to provide essential services and ensure to the taxpayer that we were living within our means.” Federal relief funds were used to support ADA Paratransit operations.
Donahue also reported on Pace’s ridership. “We’re carrying over 65,000 trips a day, which is about 66% of pre-pandemic levels,” he said. “But we still have some work to do.” Donahue and Pace Chairman Rick Kwasneski attended the Illinois Legislature’s veto session to lobby, along with the RTA, CTA and Metra, for an emergency exemption from the traditional mandated farebox recovery ratio. Legislation was passed by the House and Senate and awaits the Governor’s signature. Donahue explained that this legislation is important because it allows Pace to build back ridership by offering fare reductions on multiride passes and allows for alternative service pilots, like partnerships with rideshare providers and taxi cabs, to better meet passenger needs without the restraints of the farebox recovery ratio.
Donahue also reported that the proposed allocations of federal American Rescue Plan funding by the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) had been adjusted after lobbying the RTA for a more favorable outcome for Pace. The original proposal called for $62 million to be allocated for Pace, which was 4.1% of the total relief funding. After hearing from Pace, CTA and Metra leadership, the allotment was changed to grant Pace $71 million or approximately 5% of the total funding. For perspective, Pace’s historical share of federal capital funding for the region is approximately 8% and the agency receives about 12% of the region’s funding for operations.
Finally, the Board approved the appointment of current General Manager and Chief Operating Officer Melinda Metzger as Interim Executive Director effective January 1, 2022. “I very much appreciate the confidence you’ve placed in me,” said Metzger. “I will work as hard as I can to do whatever the Board and our riders need. This is an honor.” Last month, the current Executive Director, Rocky Donahue, announced he’ll retire at the end of 2021 after more than 40 years of service to the agency. Metzger, who has more than four decades of public transportation experience, has led Pace operations since the agency’s inception and was named “Woman of the Year” by the Women’s Transportation Symposium (WTS) in 2005. She will be the first female executive director of the agency.