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Improved rider communication is top priority for CTA in 2009: Huberman

After admitting that "when something goes wrong, we do a terrible job communicating with riders," CTA President Ron Huberman vowed to make improved rider communications the top priority in 2009. He outlined how he plans to do that in a freewheeling, 90-minute chat with CTA Tattler and friends on Saturday.

Here's how:

On the rails: Within the next eight months, the CTA will roll out 55-inch plasma TV screens at every train station. There will be one screen above the fareboxes, another on each stairway, and at least two on the platform level. The TVs are free to the CTA, paid for through advertising in a partnership with Titan Worldwide Outdoor.

Huberman1_092008 The bottom quarter of the screen will contain CTA travel information, including the arrival time for the next train. Ads will rotate on the rest of the screen. If there's an emergency, the CTA will take over the entire screen and broadcast information to riders.

This deal also means $101 million in ad revenue for the CTA over the 10-year contract.

New rail alerts. Huberman also told us about two new alerts for rail passengers. The first would allow passengers to sign up for email notices of planned service outages and changes, such as Blue Zone weekend slow zone work between Jefferson Park and Harlem.

The CTA also plans to issue live service alerts by both text message and email in the next seven months. The alerts will explain the situation and always give alternative travel information.

Finally, Ron said CTA rail cars will advertise an 800 number onboard that riders can call for the latest info. That line will be updated every 2-3 minutes as needed.

Footnote: Ron insisted we meet at the Emerald City Coffee Shop under the Red Line Sheridan El stop because he wanted to support a business that rents from the CTA.

Coming Tuesday: New communications efforts for bus riders.

Comments

Plasma are nice, they should really go with LCD or something else that won't have pixel burn in. In a couple of months time, those TV's are going to look terrible from all the ghost images in the foreground.

The TVs will be stolen long before there's a chance for burn in!

UIC:

Just what I was thinking. :)

Either that or the Customer Service guy will hook it up to Sat so they can watch Showtime...lol

KevinB

Plasmas are outdated technology with pixel burn-in. LCD is much better over the long-term (I used to hawk these technologies in another life).

Look at how poorly the CTA has kept up the video screens on the Randolph Red Line platform. They have burn-in, they work about half of the time (the other half they're just a blank or black screen), and the plastic covering over them is scratched beyond belief and never repaired.

I would think the CTA would get that particular corner of its video-screen house in order before attempting to roll it out across the system. Now we're going to get turnstile areas that look like video-festooned Jewel checkouts. Nice.

Knowing who will likely be responsible for the live text and email messages, that's a great idea. But it's amazing that the CTA would have to poach experts from among the transit-advocacy community to get that to happen.

And if you really want to talk about customer information, thousands of people are still getting screwed every evening and weekend here in downtown Chicago (where I live) by inadequate signage, uninformed CTA personnel, and half-assed 'L' announcements tryin--and failing--to tell riders how to find all that rerouted Loop service--especially with all the closed streets and blocked crosswalks in the neighborhood the CTA's track-work contractors have themselves nicely rolled out.

I'd like to see that story on a CTA plasma screen. Or at the very least, for the CTA to do something about it.

How about putting bus tracker information on those screens as well as train arrival information?

Why would they get screen burn in if they are using a crawler to post the info?

Vinny: There also will be Bus Tracker info on those screens for the buses that run nearest a given train station.

As for vandalism, if they are stolen or vandalized, they will be repaired or replaced at no expense to the CTA.

This (especially next train info) is a great step, people. Stop complaining.

Actually guys a couple things:

First, the CTA isn't doing this. It's a private company they've contracted with, so screen replacement, etc isn't an issue unless they don't perform and then they become property of the CTA if they don't live up to the contracts.

Second, most newer plasmas don't have the screen burn in issue. Also, if the people doing the content have half a brain (read whatever you want to in here) then they don't do content that is static. They alternate colors and screen positions on things like icons. Part of the problem with the current displays is that they don't do real content, they just play a Powerpoint presentation, over and over and over and over again, so you get the burn in.

KevinB

I think some people actually say "plasma TV" like it's a generic term for any flat-screen TV (either LCD or actual plasma). So maybe the actual TVs will be LCD, but Ron may have called them "plasma" just as a generic descriptor for flat-screen.

THANK YOU for the promise of REAL alerts, not that stupid ass "we are experiencing delays..." crap. While I like text message/email idea, it doesn't really do some of us any good until we, too, can get phone service in the subway while we're waiting for a train (Hello, AT&T!). Repeat the same message on the live announcements too, please.

I'd like to know what happened Sunday afternoon with the trains. The SB Red Line and the NB Brown Line trains that were in the station about 5 both stopped running, they made an announcement that everyone had to get off at Belmont from both trains, there would be shuttle buses downstairs. There was no explanation, and there were no shuttle buses.

It'll be real nice when we can look at a screen above the fareboxes and get both train and bus arrival information when coming and going, especially in bad/cold weather.

Was there any word on when the installation of these would start or which stations/lines would get the first rollout?

I question the location of a stairway screen, but suppose that if Titan Worldwide Outdoor wants to pay for it, good for them.

Plasma screens have a wider viewing angle, and can be seen better in well-lighted areas than LCD.

sigh, Ron looks so good with that t-shirt.

John T,

The article states that the rollout for these would be in the next 8 months. As for which stations first, probably the ones downtown and most visited by tourists.

Huberman's message here is "We know we can't communicate, but hey, technology will change that. And it's free!"

I don't know what good this plan will do for people trapped in trains between stations when something happens. Remember Huberman's discredited claim that the Blue Line fiasco could have been over in 15 minutes if people hadn't started to leave the trains?

(Sorry, forgot. "One of the Blue Line fiascos.")

I'm also skeptical that CTA employees can provide useful information remotely in an emergency. They can't now to station personnel.

Did Huberman explain this new process (and for that matter CTA culture) that's going to permeate to the lowest levels?

Also, keep in mind: a 55-inch screen sounds huge, but because it's so wide, there's really not much height. It's just about 26 inches high, so the one-fourth of the screen that will be useful to passengers is just about six inches. If it's just saying "Everything's fine," that's plenty of room to say it in. If not, it's dicey.

I love it:

CTA President: "We're making it a top priority to respond to one of the biggest customer complaints -- we plan to implement multiple technologies to communicate better, both in everyday travel and emergency situations. And it will actually provide revenue for the CTA, to boot.."

Customers: "But...they're buying the wrong TVs!!"

Well, it was brought up at the coffee about the communication both within the CTA itself and to the customers via the operators and through the various electronic means...

You can have the best whiz bang technology for getting out the information, but it doesn't do alot of good if the people responsible for getting out the information, don't get it out to the operators, station attendants or the public.

That's exactly where the breakdown has always been and will continue to be.

One of the things mentioned was that there would be an 800 number posted in the trains that would have an updated every 5 minutes informational message that people without text and browsers could call. Always the pessimist, my first thought was "Try getting through to that number during an emergency".

It's nice when you put it in a sound bite, but the execution leaves alot to be desired, much like any sort of implementation of the CTA branded version of the tattlers "CTA Alerts"

So, I guess it's a wait and see if it actually works.

KevinB

I'm excited to see the slop job the installers do running video and electrical conduit lines to these tvs all over the place. Particularly on the new stations where everything has been nice and clean for a few months.

Having seen how titan contracts out some of their digital out door installations this should be very classy. Also, 55inch? These things are going to look absurd.

Havent we learned anything from the London Underground? KEEP IT SIMPLE.

I was lucky enough to be a part of the coffee Saturday morning, and despite the soft speakers and loud train overhead, it was terrific!

I wanted to make a few quick comments: First and foremost, he sat down with regular riders on his own time to answer questions. How many city heads do that? When did Kruesi ever do that? My guess: never. That in and of itself is fantastic.

Second- He was articulate, well prepared, comprehensive and clearly driven. I personally was extremely impressed. Let's too, remember the fact that he was handed a 100+ year old system in disarray- both physically and financially. In a year and a half on the job, he has already overseen some significant improvements, and is continuing to implement change in the face of a budget crisis and political bickering. To top it all off, he has to answer to the mayor, the governor and John Q Public, and does so gracefully.

Finally, he seems to be addressing the most critical issues first- Bus bunching last year, improved communication this year. Intelligent riders I think need to understand that first, there is a bigger picture here, (vs. this LCD/Plasma "debate") and 2, the system simply can't be completely overhauled overnight. The CTA is incredibly flawed, and it wil take DECADES to get everything on the docket done. Ron is not superman, and he's dealing with Blago. Patience, people.

In closing, I know this sounds like a love note to Ron, and the naysayers and nitpickers (Kevin B) will squash me for it, but I was impressed. The CTA isn't perfect, and never will be. (the buses are freezing!!!) but at least stuff is getting DONE!

I still think that they need to have a comunications expert that drops everything and starts alerting riders that there is a problem. There are lots of ways to communciate to the public and to the rail employees. Ron I still would be intrested in the job!

Actually, Kreusi was well-known for riding the system and taking immediate action:

http://www.ctatattler.com/2006/05/riding_the_el_w.html

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First and foremost, he sat down with regular riders on his own time to answer questions.
======

As a salaried employee, the concept of "on his own time" is meaningless. He's paid to get a job done regardless how many hours, or which hours it takes. That's the nature of his job. This was not "his own time". This was part of his job.


======
In a year and a half on the job, he has already overseen some significant improvements,...
======

Yeah, yeah. We've all seen the PR. Most of the real improvements were from projects started long before he ever rode the CTA, let alone ran it. The other things on the list Kevin printed were filled with so much spin, I got dizzy just looking at it.


=====
The CTA is incredibly flawed, and it wil take DECADES to get everything on the docket done.
=====

Exactly my point. What's getting done today is mostly the result of efforts started long before Ron showed-up.

Ron is a great communicator. He could sell ice to Eskimos. He's doing a great job of making some people feel like things are getting much better than they are.

And if his only job was PR, that would be great. The problem is that his job is more than PR, and over the next few decades we're going to see things fall apart because he's really not doing anything other than taking credit for things already in the works, and spinning everything else.

One of these days all you Ron worshipers who are imagining him naked are going to realize that the emporer really doesn't have any clothes on.

As someone who has worked on a salary before, I can tell you that it still sucks to spend time outside the regular work week doing, well, work. Would you like to take time out of your weekend to go spend an hour or 2 with 12 people -- half of whom love you and half of whom hate you?

And do so willingly?

It sounds so dirty when you say it like that, Rusty. :P

Yes, Rusty, you may think it is PR, and yes part of it is. But, think about it: the head of the second largest transportation system in the country spent a Saturday morning with a group of people, mostly ordinary Chicago citizens who care about the city and public transportation, to share ideas and request feedback.

I have publically criticized the CTA--before and after Ron Huberman was chief. The CTA has it's problems. Some of it stems from the decades of decay, some of it is from the mismanagement and negligence, some of it from lack of funding, and some of it is just what happens when you run a big agency that has a large union.

No transit system is perfect.

I went into the meeting skeptical but anxious to hear what he had to say. What Huberman is doing is a step in the right direction. The simple fact that he acknowledges the CTA's weaknesses and takes responsibility for it is something that previous head did not do.

Why do you think that he is not responsible for some of these changes--that they were in the works long ago? Where is your evidence? Can you cite some specific examples?

Will the CTA be fixed overnight? Of course not. Has he made improvements? Absolutely. I look forward to more changes. I will also continue to criticize the CTA, file complaints if needed, ask questions, etc., because public transportation means a lot to me. Just because I have met the man and he answered some of my questions doesn't mean that I worship him. Good grief.

Rusty, I encourage you to try to attend the next meeting if you can. Bring questions. Be prepared. Have an open mind.

Erika

Emily:

As the chieftain of the naysayers, I'll give him credit for showing up, but in all fairness Kevin didn't tell him I was coming, so he couldn't very well run when he knew I was there :)

I'll be cheering him on if we get a world class and not a third world transportation system.

The important things like communicating with operators, bus drivers and riders, I'm still not going to even give him even a passing grade on, especially with at least 2 fiascoes that come down to doing an extremely poor job of communicating with his employees, let alone with the public. It's not like he doesn't know that he has to do it and how important it was/is. I even offered a few suggestions during the coffee(like using text messaging to get information out to ALL operators and possibly station attendants on those special batphones they are equipping the train operators with) so that everyone knows whats going on as opposed to just those directly involved.

The technology and the distribution method is nothing compared to the procedures that need to be followed each and every time to get information out to those who need it in a timely manner. Even if it's just using the Tattlers CTA alerts.

I will admit some empathy with his frustration about things like getting the bus operators to use their microphones and the job he has to do, but he's getting paid well to do the job. It's thankless (no doubt), it's tough (again no disagreement) but not impossible.

Also, things like we can afford to pay extra money to get things done early, but we couldn't pay up front to engineer a solution that would impact the riders the least, just don't ring true.

There's always an alternative and I suspect the politically expedient way to give the legislature and the gov an incentive to let loose on the purse strings was to put us through 3-track hell. Can't prove it but at the same time, it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Same thing for the block 37 stuff, although I put the blame for that squarely in Carole Browns failure to rein in Frank when there was no funding available to actually do this project and it cost us Washington street station and a very integral transfer point to boot as well as a lot of money that could have been put to better uses.

I still remember them(Frank and Carole) cozying up to each other when Frank put a "Sox" train into operation and made it a point to say he was doing it for Carole. It made me sick to my stomach at one of the board meetings I attended.

If anything, there should someone looking at every project, every delay and calling people on the carpet for explanations when things are overbudget or overdue. I don't think he will, but I'd love to see a Fitzgerald type of guy riding rail on the CTA appointed by the Gov using one of his appointments.


It also cost the CTA trust. The Legislature doesn't trust the CTA to spend it's money wisely, it gave the governor the excuse to play his little tricks and it puts the agency in a "trust deficit" which is much worse than a monetary one...I still don't trust the CTA to do the right and cost effective thing either. Fool me once...and all that.

As I see some of the BGA salary postings and some of the outrageous payroll figures, it's a travesty. I'm sure that they could get along just fine without 5 or 10 of those making 100-150K without impacting rail or bus operations. There's another mil we could save right there.

Let the flames begin

KevinB

"Also, things like we can afford to pay extra money to get things done early, but we couldn't pay up front to engineer a solution that would impact the riders the least, just don't ring true."

All the engineering and funding for the Brown Line Capacity project was done years ago. They couldn't substantially alter the major engineering work that had been approved, certainly not after the project began.

Changes in some of the sequencing giving priority to certain tasks in return for a little more cash was doable though.

Does anyone have an update on the Paulina Brown Line Stop? It appears to be FAR ahead of schedule for a March 2009 opening. Has anything been communicated about an early opening?

Matt,

Not much valuable info here:
http://www.ctabrownline.com/pdfs/construction_sched.pdf

I wouldnt get too excited. Southport did major work in spurts and I thought it would open ahead of schedule, and ultimately it opened after a year

I do not recall anything being communicated about Paulina. It wouldn't surprise me if they are ahead of schedule; they were for other stations as well.

Erika

As a salaried employee, the concept of "on his own time" is meaningless. He's paid to get a job done regardless how many hours, or which hours it takes. That's the nature of his job. This was not "his own time". This was part of his job.
_____________

Oh for God's sake. Not only is that a ridiculous statement, but it is untrue. There are just over 8760 hours in a year. Normal people work about 2000. Even in jobs that are extremely demanding people don't get more than about 4000 (that's 80 hours/week for 40 weeks). That leaves Ron and his ilk PLENTY of time to be "on their own time." That Ron allocated some of that time to do this coffee deal is still not to be scoffed at.

Well, in that sense, it's all his own time, too. Even if it had been at 10am this morning.

He's salaried. He doesn't work 9am-5pm, or some other specific hours. He can take time off in the middle of a weekday, or work in the middle of the night.

That he chose to do some work on a Saturday doesn't mean the same thing as it does to people who work regular hours.

And speaking of which, considering the strain that peak periods put on the CTA, I would hope that Ron is leading the pack and chosing to alter his travel to and from the office so he's not adding to the crowds at peak time. After all, as a salaried executive, he has the ability to do just that.

Is nobody on here a salaried employee or what? I am and all it means is that you work more than 40 hours at times and you don't get paid for it. It doesn't necessarily mean that you get time off at some other point in the week. Just because you are a salaried employee does not mean you are entitle to flex time and can work whenever you want. The two ideas are completely separate.

"It doesn't necessarily mean that you get time off at some other point in the week. "

You don't get comp time at any point? you're getting screwed.

Dude,

Sometimes I do, but if I work 41 hours one week, that doesn't necessarily mean I work 39 the next. Sometimes I get comped, other times not. It's the nature of being salaried as well as the industry you work in, and sometimes the company. It all depends. What I am saying is that Ron might be the same way and for everyone to assume this was not his day off is wrong.

Welcome to the 1980s, Dude.

That's correct, Chris; and to address some other misapprehensions of what it means to be a salaried employee: traditionally it does NOT mean you are at the employer's beck and call 24/7, even if some of you third parties out there think you can dictate otherwise.

Especially for those not at the top of the pyramid, in theory you do get evenings and weekends off, which is supposed to be the tradeoff for being there at minimum 9 to 5 without taking off at will (without special permission and making up the time). For most of us, it ends up being 9 to 6 or 7 or 8 depending on what's going on (or at the front end of the day for those who find that works better)--and then you can usually avoid coming in on Saturdays unless you really prefer it.

Those at the very top of the heap seem to work unlimited hours and are paid large amounts of money partly because they are weird creatures who do not care if they have a life, or else work is what they consider to be their life, and it is not easy to find people who are willing to live that way and are also effective leaders. They tend not to be absent from the office between 9 and 5 M-F unless they're traveling or out at meetings, because they need to be seen and be accessible to subordinates; besides which it would set a poor example and be bad for morale if they did not show up during the core working hours. But they CAN take Saturdays off if they want, without a reasomable worker going "who does he think he is?"

Rusty, I just don't understand your view of Huberman. I would perefectly understand if you were taking a "wait and see" attitude; that's only sensible, even for those who are excited about his tenure so far.

But you seem to have decided that he's already a failure. Yet you never give any reasons for this, other than vague dismissals of his work as PR spin or already in the works. That logically would mean that any of his initiatives wouldn't have seen the light of day yet, making judgments premature.

So ... what's up? What have you seen that you don't feel the need to withhold judgment?

I have a problem with the idea that someone with zero experience can start at the top. If two years ago you told me that someone with no transit experience would head the CTA, I'd have laughed. There's a whole pool of people with experience running big city transit systems that would have applied for the job, but instead it was handed out as a political perk.

Let's say you decided to remodel your house, but halfway through the job you decided you had to fire your contractor. Would you replace him with your buddy who never built a house before? Would you be so hungry for "change" that you would hire someone totally unqualified?

Or let's say you were the President of the United States, and you needed someone for an important post like the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Would you appoint a horse show judge with no real experience to the post?

I'm sorry, but I don't think you'll hear me saying, "You're doing a heck of a job, Ronnie!"

Had a qualified person been appointed to the post, I would start from the perspective that s/he knows what they're doing until they prove otherwise. But that didn't happen here.

I think Rusty is really Frank Kruesi and is just upset Huberman is doing a better job.

Rusty is either Kreusi or a very close associate of his.
Whenever there is news that Huberman has gotten the CTA to get a project going, Rusty is always chiming in that Kreusi planned it.
The problem is that Kreusi never planned anything.
What he did was wear a yellow safety jacket & get on TV all the time, while the CTA, particularly the rail, descended into chaos.
There's no public evidence that Kreusi planned anything, otherwise Huberman wouldn't have made some of those boneheaded statements when there were Blue Line subway problems.
Those problems developed on Kreusi's watch & it was Kreusi's deputies that Ron was forced to rely on for info & who gave him very bad info.
You'll notice we don't hear a word out of Kreusi since Daley banished him to DC, with a big salary, to "lobby" for the city.
He doesn't seem to have gotten anything for us from there, has he?

Rusty claims that the emperor has no clothes, but let's ponder the nakedness of his rebuttal to Strannix above. You're blaming Huberman for Daley's choosing him to run the CTA. It's not his fault that Daley isn't going to put anyone in charge of the CTA who could possibly defy him in any way. That's how the system got into the mess it's in now under ten year's of Daley's good buddy Frank Kreusi. Was Ron more than a little overconfident coming into this job? I'd say so, and there have been more than a few things that could have been handled a whole lot better. But I'll say it again; the trains are running more smoothly at peak travel times, the subway no longer smells like burning garbage on a regular basis, and the buses I ride are so much cleaner than they were two years ago. Those are not the result of initiatives started under Kreusi. You have to give some credit where it's due, Rusty, or you take away the power of your argument when there is a legitimate gripe.

How is the ability to build a house at all the same as the ability to run a transit agency, each with no prior experience?

A good businessman/leader can run any sort of business once you understand the fundamentals. It matters not he has no prior transit experience. However, learning to build a house is not something that comes as easily or as translatable from another position.

Rusty:

So your actual problem is that he was hired with very little transit experience. That's fair enough.

But it sounds like because he wasn't qualified in mass transit you are totally dismissing him. He does have management experience, which you fail to mention.

You have been echoing this same sentiment since April 2007.Huberman's a political hack-blah-blah-blah. Well, Daley put Krusei in charge for years, and despite his consistent incompetence and mismanagement, he supported him. Your issues should be with Daley, not Huberman.

You stated over a year ago: "He's still in the honeymoon phase. That gives him a chance to do all kinds of pandering moves that will ultimately cause more harm than Kreusi ever caused."

You have also stated "The CTA needs someone with experience in something other than political hackery. Sound-bites, and holding a few scapegoats responsible is comperable to painting a wall without first cleaning it. It looks good for a short while, but eventually it's going to look worse than ever." (September 2007)

So how long is this "short while"? Years? When will you concede that despite your hopes and dreams and ramblings, Huberman has made improvements than Krusei? You fail to mention the improvements he has made under his watch. He has done more for the CTA in one year than Krusei did during his entire tenure.

Still waiting on that evidence that you have that these initiatives started under someone other than Huberman...

erika


Rusty, that sounds more like a personal grudge than an objective analysis of the situation. Your answer shows no consideration of what has or hasn't happened under Huberman's watch, and instead focuses on political doings that are frankly neither here nor there when it comes to getting people to work on time.

Honestly, I can understand your skepticism. But you've still given no reason why we should judge Huberman unfit given the state of the system now versus a year and a half ago.

biggest bunch of whiners on the internet. if nothing was done there's a hue and cry, if something is done, it's never enough.

the comments section here is totally on par with the tribune's site.

Aw, c'mon, kt, at least the Tattler faithful get the facts straight most of the time when bitching. Can't say that for the foamers and flamers on the Trib boards.

...that, and not everyone whines and complains on this board.

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