In June, Streetsblog Chicago published an op-ed asking the Chicago Transit Authority to stop acting like it hadn’t cut service due to staffing shortages, and instead adjust its schedules and Bus and Train Tracker applications to bring them into line with reality. “It’s time for the agency to take a pragmatic approach to its workforce challenges and be realistic and transparent about how much service it can actually deliver… It needs to change its published timetables so that the “regular service” and actual bus and train routes begin to at least remotely resemble each other.
During CTA President Dorval R. Carter Jr.’s speech today at a City Club of Chicago event, he made it clear that the transit agency got the message, not just from us , but of all the other Chicagoans who are fed up with unreliable information and unpredictable service. According to Carter, a survey of thousands of current and former CTA riders found that their top concerns about the system included “bus wait times” and “tracker accuracy.”
Carter unveiled a new action plan to improve service, safety and customer experience as the system recovers from its COVID-19 ridership slump, titled “Meeting the Moment: Transforming CTA’s Post-Pandemic Future.” . Two of the five pillars of the report are “Delivering reliable and consistent service” and “Upgrading digital tools to improve communication with passengers”. In his speech, Carter indicated that the transportation agency plans to do pretty much what Streetsblog and others have asked it to do.
Today’s speech did not start out promising, as Carter repeated the oft-repeated and hugely misleading party line from Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the CTA that despite a 70% drop in ridership During the 2020 stay-at-home period, “We have not reduced our normally scheduled bus and train service schedule. The word “programmed” does the heavy lifting in this sentence. While the agency has not changed its regular service, the amount of service it Actually provided have dropped significantly. For example, an analysis of data from earlier this year found that only about half of the Blue Line’s scheduled trips actually materialized.
But Carter was candid about the fact that, largely due to COVID-related absenteeism, worker attrition, and hiring challenges that impact many different areas, particularly the transport, during the Great Resignation, “Our service does not meet our high expectations for reliability and waiting times.
Carter highlighted efforts to increase the number of bus and train operators available. These include the direct hiring of full-time bus drivers, the transfer of more than 300 part-time operators to full-time jobs; and rehire retired bus drivers to work part-time. He also noted that the agency has partnered with Olive-Harvey College on a program to train bus operator job candidates. “Last week we introduced a new class of 80 bus operators,” he said. However, he warned that the CTA will not “cut corners” when preparing these employees to operate safely on the streets of Chicago, so “our efforts will take longer to bear fruit.”
Next, Carter discussed the launch of the service optimization requested by Streetsblog and others, which is launching this month and will be in place until next spring. The “Meeting the Moment” plan states, “We will take strategic steps to better match our scheduled service with the service we currently provide by reducing the number of scheduled services that are currently unfilled. »
“This is not a reduction in service,” Carter insisted during his speech. “We are realigning our service for more consistent wait times. Thanks to these schedules, customers can plan their trips with confidence. He added that while the schedule adjustments will mean slightly longer – but more predictable – gaps between daytime rides, the midnight to 4 a.m. times will remain unchanged, as those are the most likely rides. to be used by essential workers relying on public transit. He said this reflects the action plan’s emphasis on transit equity.
Regarding the “Digital Tools Upgrade” pillar, Carter announced that enhancements to bus and train tracking apps will be announced in the near future. The action plan states: “CTA will improve bus and train tracking feeds in the coming months to improve our communication and reduce the number of ‘ghost’ buses and trains. Some of the improvement will come from service optimization efforts, but we’re also making other improvements to the tracker itself to help provide customers with accurate wait times and fleet locations. Carter showed an image of a future Train Tracker screen suggesting the new version will show the exact, real-time locations of vehicles on a map.
Carter also mentioned that the agency will be piloting a “Chat With CTA” or “ChatBot” feature. He said these will provide customers with more real-time information or the ability to more easily report issues, such as trains in need of cleaning.
In addition to unreliable service and ghost rides, respondents to the CTA survey mentioned crime as a top concern. This is understandable, as a recent Sun-Times analysis found that the number of violent incidents on buses and trains is currently at the highest level in a decade. There have been some particularly tragic and disturbing headlines in recent days, including the fatal shooting of Diunte Moon, 29, early Saturday morning on the red line at 79th, and the stabbing of a 39-year-old man in the neck Tuesday night during an argument on the Fullerton ‘L’ platform.
Carter discussed the action plan’s pillar “Improving the safety and security of our passengers,” with the goal of addressing “crime and unruly behavior in the system.” He noted that the CTA recently announced greater surveillance of the system, including K-9 units with dogs, and that the number of unarmed security guards in the system was recently increased from 200 to 300. He added that the transit agency will tackle fare evasion. , which he says often leads to further breaches of the law, with strategies such as higher tariff barriers in certain locations. In response to the worrying increase in attacks on CTA employees during COVID, bus operators will also receive more protective security shields.
The CTA chairman also acknowledged the recent increase in illegal activities on trains such as smoking, alcohol and drug use. “Individuals use CTA cars as nightclubs, hangouts, restaurants and, unfortunately, as homes.” He said partnerships with social service organizations like the Ministry of Night have proven useful in providing support and assistance to homeless people housed on trains. “We are planning this winter proactively” by increasing the scale of these partnerships, he promised.
Many CTA users have complained about dirty and unsanitary conditions at stations and on trains during the pandemic. Carter noted that the action plan includes the pillar “Improve guest experience at facilities” and promised that the agency would increase concierge services. He said 28 stations across all lines will undergo Refresh & Renew program makeovers, including repainting and other cosmetic and lighting upgrades.
Carter also announced the deployment of nine electric buses and the popular new 7000 series railcars. “CTA’s future is strong and we are ready for the moment,” he concluded.
So, will the agency actually deliver on its promise to make its schedules reflect reality and address the problem of ghost vehicles? Fingers crossed and hold the CTA accountable if it fails to significantly improve service, reliability, safety and sanitation.
Download the ‘Meeting the Moment: Transforming CTA’s post-pandemic future’ action plan here.