Advocates rally CTA HQ to demand improvements: “We need to keep being loud”

This morning, in advance of today’s CTA board meeting, dozens of transit advocates held an “I’m Late” protest in front of the transit agency’s West Loop headquarters, demanding more reliable bus and train service, more accurate Transit Tracker arrival times, and better conditions for CTA workers. The demonstration was organized by the new public transportation advocacy group Commuters Take Action, in partnership with Chicago Jobs with Justice and Better Streets Chicago. About 60 people showed up, many of whom bicycled there via two Bike Bus morning group rides led by Chicago, Bike Grid Now on Milwaukee Avenue and Halsted Street, which converged shortly before arriving at the rally.

People who came to the rally via the Chicago, Bike Grid Now Bike Bus rides. Photo: John Greenfield

After chants such as “No more ghosts,” a reference to the infuriating problem of “ghost” runs that appear on Transit Tracker screens only to disappear before they show up, Commuters Take Action member Olivia Gahan addressed the crowd, explaining the group’s mission. “We need to keep being loud and vocal to make the CTA operate as it should.”

CTA rider Cedar Larson told the group that straphangers like her are frustrated with having to leave the house 30 minutes earlier than during pre-pandemic times in order to be sure of arriving on time, due to current service gaps caused by bus and train operator staffing shortages, and having to plan on getting home a half hour late. “There’s no excuse to just let customers linger at a train stop.” She noted that as the climate crisis continues to intensify, and Chicago becomes a hub for people fleeing the Sunbelt and coasts, “public transportation will be the way to go in a warming world.”

Better Streets cofounder Kyle Lucas told attendees, “We have heard Lori Lightfoot proudly proclaim that Chicago was the only major city not to cut transit service.” But he noted that in reality a data analysis by Commuters Take Action member Fabio Göttlicher found that the CTA had only been running about half of scheduled Blue Line trips.

Lucas added that the CTA board giving CTA president Dorval Carter Jr. a 33 percent raise to $350,000 last December “added salt in the wound” of poor service. “The board said it was because Carter had been a ‘rockstar’ during the pandemic. Do you think that’s a rockstar performance? I think it’s corrupt.”

Jose Manuel Almanza, Jr. from Chicago Jobs with Justice. Photo: John Greenfield

Jose Manuel Almanza, Jr. from Chicago Jobs with Justice told the crowd he doubted that Carter has actually ridden the system in the past decade, or that Lightfoot had ridden anytime recently. While this year violent crime on the transit system has reached levels not seen in a decade, Almanza argued that the city’s strategy of stepping up the police and security guard presence, including a recently $31 million contract for dog patrols to combat fare evasion, is the wrong solution. “Safety does not look like more police, security guards, or attack dogs. Safety looks like not waiting 30 minutes for a bus, and knowing when your train is coming due to accurate Transit Trackers.”

Göttlicher told the crowd that one of his coworkers lives with his elderly mother near the Jefferson Park Blue Line station, and the senior works a late shift at O’Hare doing custodial work. She used to ride the ‘L’ to and from work, but after she recently had to wait more than an hour for trains home, her son has been driving out to the airport to pick her up every morning, a depressing sign of the times.

One of the many signs with a snappy slogan at the rally: “Would rather be fashionably on time.” Photo: John Greenfield

Göttlicher noted that the CTA put out a press release this morning, likely in anticipation of the rally, arguing that recent train schedule optimization has improved service. The news release cited the Blue Line as an example of this success, stating, “On the Blue Line during weekdays, instances of large gaps in service – more than triple the scheduled interval – dropped 64 percent, from 14 to five instances” since rail optimization took place in mid-August. However, the transit advocate pointed out that the latest published timetable for the Blue Line hasn’t been updated since October 24, 2021, which makes him suspect that the agency hasn’t actually made all the scheduling improvements it says it has.

“I’m really grateful for the turnout we had today,” Göttlicher said after the rally. “Now we just have to hope the CTA and politicians are listening. The action doesn’t stop today – we’ll keep the pressure up.”

Attendees wrote down comments on an “Arrival Information Temporarily Unavailable” banner hung on a bus shelter. Photo: John Greenfield

According to Commuters Take Action, over 1,150 people have joined its campaign by reporting a missing train or bus, submitting a public comment, or emailing their alder. Here’s how to get involved.

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