Illinois Public Media News
Gov. Pat Quinn has appointed a new leader for the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Quinn on Monday named Ann Schneider to be secretary of the state transportation department. Schneider has been acting secretary since July and previously was chief of operations for the department. Schneider also was chief fiscal officer for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and in the Governor's Office of Management and Budget.
The governor also named John Holton as director of the Illinois Department on Aging.
Quinn also made other appointments, including Jim Larkin as acting director of the Department of Agriculture, Andrew Stolfi as acting director of the Illinois Department of Insurance and John Kim as interim director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
A taxi service owner in Decatur says he plans to sue the city for shutting down his company.
Last week, City Manager Ryan McCrady ruled that AOK Taxi used an unregistered vehicle and failed to inform the city about changes in its fleet. Assistant City Manager Billy Tyus confirms the cab service was shut down last week after violating city codes.
"The decision to revoke the license was based on the operation of unlicensed taxis," he said. "The city is responsible for licensing taxi services. It was decided that taxis were operated without a valid license, among other things."
AOK Taxi owner Anthony Walker said those allegations don't stack up, and he said he is determined to get his company's license back through a federal lawsuit.
"I know for a fact, 150 percent sure, that I can actually go in and prove every allegation was unfounded and there was no merit to it," Walker said. "With that being the case, I need to do that because my creditability and who I am as a business person in this community, I need to do that."
The city had contracted with Walker's company to provide a pick-up service for people who need help getting to a physician or bus stop.
Tyus said the Decatur Public Transit System will now run that program, but he said AOK will still be able to operate its livery service. The city also claims that a number of other vehicles couldn't be on the street because of technical issues.
Losing taxi service in Decatur is nothing new. And a bar owner in the city says it's come to the point where some sort of collaborative effort is needed to give rides to patrons.
Kim Miller co-owns the Bourbon Barrell, which is located near Millikin University. She said patrons have started to complain since learning that AOK taxi has shut down.
"Our cab situation in Decatur has been ongoing for years," Miller said. "We've had companies come in, they do ok for a while, and then they're gone. I don't know if it's just that we don't have enough customers to keep it going. Because obviously, it's just not bar customers. Other customers just need to do their day-to-day activities."
Miller said there needs to be some serious discussions with other owners and the city about offering some sort of shuttle service.
She says AOK network is offering a $10 shuttle service to or from anywhere in the area. But the company only offers a few vehicles, and Miller said its status is uncertain given the problems with the taxi company.
Bourbon Barrell used to provide free rides to some patrons who were in no condition to drive, but Miller said that's no longer feasible.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Ford union autoworkers have approved a new four-year contract that's expected to bring 2,000 jobs to the Chicago region.
At first, it didn't seem like a slam dunk deal. Many workers complained the new contract reinforced an unfair two-tier payment system with part time workers doing the same work as full-timers and getting paid substantially less. The new contract included profit-sharing in lieu of pay raises, and many living in expensive metropolitan areas like Chicago wanted a cost of living pay increase.
Chicago's union workers were so against the contract that 77 percent of the South Side assembly plant voted against it last week; 70 percent at the Chicago Heights stamping plant did the same.
But as big 'yes' votes came in over the weekend from major facilities in Michigan and Kansas City, the scales began to tip tellingly in favor of the contract. Workers in Louisville, Ky., approved the agreement Tuesday, according to a post on the Louisville local's Facebook page. That was the last large local to vote, and it ensures the agreement will go into effect.
A final tally was not immediately available from the UAW Wednesday morning.
Richard Hurd, Professor of Labor Studies at Cornell University, said he's not surprised at all in the variation between plants on the vote. He said typically in votes for or against a contract, a local union leader holds a lot of sway.
Regarding the case of the Chicago plants' rejection, he thought it could go deeper.
"It could be that there are tensions in the facility and the vote reflects things other than the workers particular view towards the terms of the agreement. There may be bad relations between the current plant manager and workers, or between supervisors and workers. So workers less happy with situation will be more likely to vote against a contract," Hurd said.
The UAW represents approximately 41,000 hourly and salaried workers across 27 Ford manufacturing and assembling facilities in the United States. Now that the vote is in, the new four-year contract will begin moving forward. According to a UAW press release, it includes adding 5,750 new UAW jobs.
"These new UAW jobs mean more than 12,000 new jobs in total with jobs previously announced by Ford," said UAW President Bob King.
Chicago's two area plants are expected to reap 2,000 new jobs out of the deal by 2015. The agreement also promises $16 billion Ford is investing in new and upgraded vehicles and retooling plants.
A signing bonus for workers comes in at $6,000 dollars, which according to Hurd, is a big figure in these days of a depressed economy.
Now that the contract is approved, local unions will continue work on bargaining on behalf of individual plant agreements.
An expert on the operation of airports says forming a local authority with funding by local taxpayers might be one way Willard Airport can cut costs.
Jack Penning, who's with Portland-based Sixel Consulting, is laying out this and other options that don't include the University of Illinois. He made his suggestions Tuesday before the annual meeting of Champaign County's Economic Development Corporation.
Penning said Willard simply doesn't compete well with other nearby airports, largely because it doesn't involve the community, whereas Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington is under the guidance of a local airport authority, and involves local property tax dollars.
"Because of that, there's a lot more community input into how the airport is run, because it's your neighbor running the airport," he said. "The airport here is run by the (U of I) Board of Trustees, which doesn't have single member from Champaign County outside of a student trustee. And so the people who use the airport, the people who live in Champaign County, really have very little say over how it's run."
Penning said in Bloomington, airlines pay about $1.50 per passenger, while they're paying more than $9 a passenger at Willard. He said the big difference is property taxes in Bloomington, as well as the U of I's wages and benefits to those who work at Willard.
Seamus Reilly co-chairs the EDC's airport committee. He said each of the consultant's suggestions offered greater possibilities for Willard.
"It's not so much that one or other governing structures is necessarily superior, but I think what came through was the fact that some of these other airports have a much stronger funding platform," Reilly said. "In other words, that they have money available and resources available to help develop the airport to move it forward."
Penning said the airport also has the option of being made part of the Champaign Urbana Mass Transit District, being operated through the Regional Planning Commission, or Willard could be operated by a private management firm. He didn't endorse one of the plans for Willard.
Penning's final report on Willard should be available for public review in about a month.
The city of Decatur is ordering the only taxi company in town to shut down over what the city manager calls violations of local codes.
The Herald & Review in Decatur reports City Manager Ryan McCrady ruled Friday that AOK Taxi used an unregistered vehicle as a taxi and failed to inform the city about changes in its fleet such as the junking of a number of cars that had fire damage.
McCrady said the loss of the taxi service would create a hardship, but he said his duty is to make sure the taxis are safe and well regulated.
AOK owner Anthony Walker said he is considering suing the city. Walker shut the company down for a while last year as he complained about city regulations.
The city of Champaign is giving people another option to pay for parking.
On Thursday, the city installed downtown parking meters that accept credit and debit card payments, in addition to coins. Patti Anderson, a management analyst with Champaign's Public Works Department, said pay stations were originally going to be set up on each block, but she said city officials decided to go a different direction.
"The customer doesn't have to walk down the block," Anderson said. "They don't have to wait in line if there are customers from other cars waiting to get their parking paid for. It's just simpler for them, and that's one of the main reasons we went with it. We think it's a convenience for the customer."
For now, 37 parking meters have been installed downtown, but Anderson said the city will review the smart meters six months from now to determine if there should be more. She said while the technology may change, parking rates will stay the same.
Patti Anderson Demonstrates How the Smart Parking Meters Work:
A spokeswoman for Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the former Illinois Republican congressman will leave the Obama administration at the end of the president's current term.
The spokeswoman, Jill Zuckman, said LaHood was asked about his intentions at a media luncheon Thursday. She said he gave no reason for his decision and hadn't discussed his intentions with President Barack Obama.
LaHood was congressman for 14 years until retiring in 2008, and a top aide to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel before that.
He had a reputation in Congress as a moderate who tried to foster greater cooperation between Democrats and Republicans. While those skills made LaHood an attractive Cabinet choice, he has become better known as a plain-speaking advocate for safer driving and job-creating transportation projects.
A University of Illinois official assisting in efforts to build a campus-wide bicycling culture says national recognition should serve as leverage for more improvements.
The League of American Bicyclists this week proclaimed the Urbana campus as one of six new Bicycle Friendly Universities. In the past, the organization has recognized cities and businesses for the same honor.
U of I Sustainability and Transportation Coordinator Morgan Johnston says the league used amenities like the total miles of bike lanes on campus, and the amount of parking and storage for that designation. She says the designation is exciting, but hopes to use it to make bike facilities on campus much better.
"By receiving this designation, we're really going to need more resources to get the facilities up to current standards," said Johnston. "We now know what they should be, but we still need the funding to get it done. And so I'm really hoping that we can leverage this award to be able to find the funding needed to put in the updated bicycle lanes and paths."
She says the bronze award should also allow the U of I to place bike lanes in the street, and cut down on side paths.
"By doing that reduction, we'll actually have the ability to keep the off-road paths better maintained," she said. "For example, the path that goes across the (Urbana campus) quad. The paint is fading on all of our paths, and we want to paint them as bike lanes, but with no motor vehicle lanes between them."
Johnston says she hopes to tap a sustainability fund that was in the works about a year ago through the University of Illinois Foundation. Johnston says a completed bike plan should now allow the Foundation to reach out to donors
Willard Airport at Champaign will be adding the Fort Myers Florida area to its passenger air schedule this winter.
Georgia-based Vision Airlines will be flying twice-weekly round trips between Willard Airport and the airport at Punta Gorda, Florida --- about 25 miles northwest of Fort Myers. The service will launch on December 19th, and run until the end of next March. Boeing 737 aircraft will be used for the route.
Vision Airlines Sales and Marketing Director Clay Meek says their service is aimed at leisure customers seeking a warm-weather getaway --- and he thinks the Monday and Friday flights will be a good fit for the Champaign-Urbana area.
"You're looking at 150 seats twice a week, about 300 seats a week," Meek said. "And it's falling on the proper days. So you're looking at a Monday-Friday, so people can get a very inexpensive getaway for the weekend, or midweek travel, or of course they can stay a whole week. The numbers line up that it should be successful."
Meek said their service will save passengers the trouble of connecting to flights at larger airports, and fares for the non-stop flights will be as low as $99 one way. He said Vision Airlines could consider other service to Willard Airport, if the Fort Myers/Punta Gordo flights prove popular.
Bruce Walden of the University of Illinois, which operates Willard Airport, said the new flights will be handy, not just for reaching Fort Myers, but for visiting the eastern Florida coast from Sarasota to Naples.
Illinois State Police officials are warning drivers cops will be out in full force this holiday weekend.
About 100 roadside safety checks are scheduled across the state in an effort to crack down on drunk driving. Over the past five Labor Days, 25 people have died from drunk drivers in Illinois.
Bob Park, with the state's Department of Transportation, said the number of fatalities from drunk drivers over the holiday weekend have dropped over recent decades.
"The culture has changed," Park said. "When you take a look at the statistics and you look at the death rate, I mean, having the lowest death rate sinec the 1920s, obviously what we're doing is working."
Police warn that most drunk driving incidents happen at night. Drivers caught under the influence could face jail time or have their license suspended.
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