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What would you ask Prez Ron if you could?

CTA Tattler is holding its second "Coffee with Ron" this weekend, and again I'm soliciting your questions to ask him.

The first coffee in March featured a wide-ranging discussion on all CTA issues -- and at least one media scoop when he broached the idea of the seatless rail trains.

Since I have to limit attendance to about a dozen people, I promise to present him with a list of your questions from comments here.  So have at it.

NOTE: After the first coffee, I offered to extend invitations to the second Ron meet-up to whoever sent me an email. And I did just that. I got emails from about 20 of you readers asking to be invited. I issued those invitations last week in the order in which they were received. Email me if you want to be on the list for the next Coffee with Ron.

Comments

Once 3-track is over, will the trains return to their regular intervals, and will we see an increase in the number of runs? Also will the Purple line return to being routed around the inner loop?

Thank you.

You know, I just emailed you and said that I couldn't think of any good questions, but I take it back -- I really am curious about the state of the Washington Red Line stop. What with the whole Block 37 quagmire, will the stop be reopening (to serve its old role as just a regular stop with a Blue Line transfer, if not its magical role as airport-express-luggage-dropoff-whatever)? Now that it's been two years, I almost don't miss it, because the train zips so speedily to Lake that I blink and we're past it, but I am still curious about it.

Off-topic, but it just occured to me -- you know what would be fun? We should see about how we get a railfan group organized and take a CTA Tattler charter train tour, maybe with the Central Electric Railfans Association or something. Maybe a tour of the history of abandoned/now demolished stations, or something. (OK, it's rail-centric, but somehow a tour of abandoned bus stops doesn't sound that exciting, especially if it just involves stopping at every block.) Although Kevin B. might want to come in disguise. :-D

When is the CTA store re-opening? It has been under construction for awhile. I just moved to Wisconsin and would love to get something CTA.

How will the lack of seating be dealt with on the Brown line? How do we ensure the elderly and disabled get available seats since we're removing some from cars? Will more in the regular seating cars be designated? Will station attendants help enforce if necessary?
I'd like to depend on common decency but I've been riding too long to really expect it to happen.

What is the CTA doing to mitigate the long delay in the loop signal project?

I'd like to know what the timeline is for renovating the retail space under the Wilson Red Line station. It's just horrible and has been empty for years. Seems like putting tenants in would be a win/win for the CTA's coffers and also for the betterment of the neighborhood.

I'd also like to know if the CTA owns the Majestic Store property at Broadway and Leland, and what the plans are, if any, to stop the deterioration of this historic building.

I would like to submit both a suggestion and a question.

1) Recommend permanently shuttering the Wellington Brown Line stop. It's in too close proximity to two other platforms, meaning those who historically use the stop would be required to walk no more than 1/8 mile south to Diversey or north to Belmont. The CTA will save on the costs associated with maintaining and staffing the stop and lose little, if any ridership. A faster ride for everyone as an added bonus.

2) Has the surge in ridership numbers, both locally and nationally, had an effect on federal government's funding of mass transit initiatives? Is there a means test, and if so, how are Chicago's prospects in terms of securing federal $$$?

Is there a way we can waste more capital funds?

Is the CTA considering contracts with other cellular carriers for underground access?

Will the CTA please start using their Twitter account to announce system problem?

Will the CTA please update their website and/or Twitter account QUICKLY when there is a customer alert?

I'd like to know what plans Ron has after some of the current initiatives complete either this year or early next (like the Brown lines reopened, 3 tracking completed, Bus Tracker installed on all buses, slow zones much more reduced). What will be the focus after that? Will it be expansion of some of the lines (as proposed), more bus lanes or something else altogether? I think Ron has done a great job so far in improving the CTA, so I'm curious to hear what else is in store.

Doc,

The reason Wellington stop exists is probably due to the hospital. CTA seems to accomodate many stops (Bus and L) to local hospitals, which seems appropriate. I understand that there are 2 stops very close, but that is probably the only reason it still exists. However, it would be nice if they had a walkway to get directly into the hospital.

Can he update us on the progress with the electronic signs he talked about earlier this year that are supposed to show train times and advertising at each station?

If there was any consideration of closing Wellington, I'm positive it won't happen a year after they renovated it.

I'd ask Ron about the pilot signal priority project on Western. What are the concerns? Are aldermen supportive? Do you have to equip certain buses, and then how do you make sure those buses are always assigned to the X49? How often does the X49 currently get bunched, and how much of a difference do they think it'll make if those 15 lights are tripped for the X49? Is there a plan to expand assuming this is successful, and if so, would it expand on the X49 first, or to other routes?

What is the potential for slowing cross-traffic? And how much of the savings comes from tripping little side-street stoplights, where there would be very little harm done to cross-traffic? Could you rewire every side-street light in the city and give priority at these lights not just to late buses, but to all buses? And roughly what does it cost per light or per bus?

1) How long will the Monroe Street subway platform be down to just a single bench that passengers cannot sit on because it's occupied by a smelly bum? (There used to be at least 3 benches.)

2) Will you go on record with a commitment to the riding public that the standing-room train car experiment will not turn out to be just the first step to eventual elimination of almost all seats on the CTA system?

I'd like to echo Elaine's question regarding rehab and development of the crumbling and blighted retail properties that the CTA owns at the Wilson Yard el stop. Huberman lives in the neighborhood and has seen how terrible the location is with his own eyes. He even brought this issue up himself, unprompted, at a community meeting at Truman College earlier this year, and promised that the CTA would take action on its problem properties. I've heard nothing since.

Why do they only use the smaller size buses on the southbound #148 bus route in the morning? The buses are too small for the number of riders, and always end up overcrowded. Many people in my neighborhood (along Clarendon) have given up on the 148 because we simply can't get on the buses. Some of us take the 135 instead - which also runs on Clarendon, at rates approaching 1 bus every 2 minutes, with large accordion buses that are all empty. Some of us walk over to Marine for the 146 - or, on the rare occasions when one actually shows up, the 144.

Seriously. I'd like to invite Ron to come stand at Clarendon & Buena some weekday morning and watch empty 135 after empty 135 go by, as the crowd of waiting riders gets larger and larger, and when a 148 does finally show up, not everyone can get on. (And this is several blocks before the 148 gets onto the outer drive - there are many stops yet to go, and little to no room.) What sense does this make?

Those are good questions about the Wilson stop -- that really is a sketchy mess there. And it's just a waste to let it rot away. So I'll third that question!

If I were to ask a pie in the sky question, I'd wonder if there was ever any intent to re-extend the East 63rd branch of the Green Line back to Stony Island. Seems like if they're hoping to be putting the Olympics down thattaway it would be nice to link up with Metra there, and such a relatively easily accomplished link too.

1) Can you instruct bus drivers to stop running yellow/red lights and blocking intersections/crosswalks. It happens frequently, and it keeps us committed pedestrians from crossing the street because the bus is smack in the middle of the crosswalk. Going around a car blocking the crosswalk is relatively easy; going around a bus can be dangerous.

2) Why does the overhead covering on the elevated platforms cover only part of the platform? I was waiting for a train at Belmont the other day, and everyone was huddled under the covering because it was raining – which meant dozens of people were trying to get on the middle cars instead of walking out into the rain. Why aren't the entire El platforms covered, especially in a city with as much snow as we get in winter?

Also, I'm glad he leaves it to King Richard (aka Mayor Daley) to spar with the Idiot from Springfield (aka Gov. Blagoyevich). I'd hate to see the Cutie from Uptown dirty his hands with such menial nonsense. [Said with a sly grin.]

sabrina:

I won't come in my Guy Fawkes costume unless it's Halloween :) Besides I use a body double in dangerous situations.

Ron was pretty clear on the Washington Street station fiasco. Unless a fairy godmother or godfather comes in and plunks a lot of money down to essentially do what the CTA tried to do without any rhyme, reason, real need (or funding for that matter), the station (and blue line transfer point will open, umm, never). How's that work for you?


They've essentially destroyed the station and the transfer tunnel and don't have the funds to rebuild it and it would keep them from their pipe dream of an un-needed and basically un-workable express to O'Hare (unless they did the unthinkable and actually worked with Metra and the RTA to use some of their track so that it wouldn't impact the current blue line service).

Kevin was there when it was explained to me and he can further elaborate/confirm and unless something has changed, that's where it lies...

KevinB

Me again...

I'm curious to know why he took the job as president of the CTA. He was previously Daley's chief of staff, and before that (if I recall correctly) he worked with the police department. Why the move from one thankless job to another?

With the growth in the south loop area are there any plans to open any new rail stations?

Specifically a green line stop in the 1400-1800 range?

"Why does the overhead covering on the elevated platforms cover only part of the platform?"

I noticed that too. I was hoping that the station was still unfinished and they are going to add additional roofing and snazzy detailing.

Jon:

Wouldn't it make more sense to put a new stop at Cermak? 1400-1600 is only at most half a mile from Roosevelt, and 17th Junction is smack in the way of 1600-1800. Put the 2 mile stretch on the Green Line from Roosevelt to 35th definitely needs to be broken up by a stop.

I'll echo both of the questions in Charles M's first post. Drivers along Michigan Ave. during the afternoon rush are pretty aggressive about blocking crosswalks. And it makes no sense to have partial canopies on any station platforms, but especially those platforms that have been rebuilt recently. (Which includes the stations along the northern stretch of the Red Line. Berwyn and Bryn Mawr are still in pretty awful shape and the canopies don't really seem to be much better than the ones that were replaced.)

I'm with JOn on a Green Line stop further down in the South Loop. Between McCormick Place, South Loop and CHA redevelopment, it would seem like some low hanging fruit especially around 18th.

Also what's the deal with the fuel costs and buying the more expensive City Gas? Are we still paying the higher rate? If so, why?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/08/14/cta-paying-city-to-pump-f_n_118893.html
Sun-Times site is no cooperating

Of the 80 positions CTA will cut, how many are vacancies and how many are real cuts? What's the average number of managers to workers for the organization?

How about some REAL information when there is a delay on the trains and not some disembodied voice merely repeating the same useless phrase over and over. I was one of the ones stuck in the Blue Line subway this past Friday after work waiting for a northbound train. After 10, 15 minutes we received the "helpful" instruction that "We are experiencing a delay (No shit? Wow, that 20 minutes we've been waiting here must have breezed by.) We should be resuming service shortly." This was repeated every five minutes or so until I and several other people said fuck it and left. I found out later on the radio that there was an accident possiblity involving a fatality (haven't been able to follow-up). How about actually giving HELPFUL information in the event of a delay on the train or bus? You don't have the give the gory details (if there are any), but something along the lines of "There has been an incident in the subway. This will delay train service for (20 minutes, 30 minutes, one hour, etc.)." I mean, in the event of a fatality, the police and fire have to be called, trains halted, the scene and any evidence that it was an accident and not something more collected. Give me the option of standing there and waiting or finding alternative means of transportation. But don't let me stand there like an idiot if I have to be somewhere and the only info you give me is some babble about a "delay" (which is obvious) and a "train arriving shortly" (which is a flat-out lie).

Oh! After seeing Cheryl's comment to yesterday's post: Why does the CTA end "rush hour" so unrealistically at 6 pm?

Also: Why did he take the very consumer-hostile move of doing away with schedules on the train lines, and when will he restore them?

Now that the Red line subway slow zone project is wrapping up, is there going to be a focus now on elimininating slow zones that exist around the Wilson/Lawrence area (they DO exist but not on slow zone map) and in proximity to the Loyola and Graville stops? Were the crews for the subway project CTA track workers that can now be redeployed or were they contractor workers for that project? Finally, Ron mentioned in a few news releases that newly reconstructed tracks would be increased above the 55mph limit to 65mph or possibly more. What is the status on the speed increase on the new sections of track such as on the Blue line from Jefferson Park to O'Hare and in the subways? Are there specific areas identified that will be increased to 65mph?

I don't have a question, just a comment. Tell Ron the next time I see a bus driver texting while driving, I'm not calling the CTA, I'll dialing 911. Okay, maybe I'll call the CTA too, but not first.

What is the status on the Bus Rapid Transit project that is supposed to be in place by Summer '09? When will more details be released, and when will the public have a chance to comment on it? Also, how much will this cost the CTA in addition to the 153 million that the Fed's are providing? And finally, does Ron think it's actually a good idea or is it just lipstick on a pig, er, bus?

Brown Line stations, especially Belmont and Fullerton, were supposed to get full-length canopies during the reconstruction but they were shortened (along with reductions in other amenities, like extra turnstiles, escalators, decorative elements, etc.) to save money since the original design of the project was far over budget.

Of the 80 jobs being cut, how many of them are management (and especially executive) versus how many are people who actually work for a living? How many licenses to Powerpoint will be dropped, too?

Is there a plan to replace the State/Lake loop station, that thing is dangerous. Same question about the stations along Wabash, you could go from 3 to 2 easily. Those things are beyond dilapidated.

When will the auxiliary exit open at Sedgwick? The station was done last winter, yet the aux. exit has yet to open. The one at Armitage is now open, and it was just finished in June.

CTA has a Citizens Advisory Board, but individuals are appointed rather than allowed to apply for membership. There was a contentious exchange between Carole Brown and posters on her blog when she encouraged them to attend the meetings last spring. Posters rightly, but not very courteously, pointed out that this board was not truly representative of CTA's riding public. New York, Washington, Philadelphia, even Pittsburgh all have some form of riders' advisory board. In each case, these boards have a formal application process, operating structure, mission statements and by-laws. What are the chances that CTA might implement a truly representative riders' advisory board to solicit public input? CTA has an obvious problem with public perception and this might help a tiny little bit.

Not questions, but an expression in frustration and futility: next to Comcast, the CTA is the definition of deplorable, get-nowhere customer "service." They have apathetic attitudes and a do-nothing mindset. Any time I have ever called or emailed for information or to complain, I have been challenged to come up with a solution for my problem - "what do you want me to do about it?" - even though I've given my thoughts on a solution - "I want you to discipline the bus driver who looked straight at a group of people at his stop and gunned it over the bridge without stopping" or "it would be helpful if you had given me the correct information when I asked you for it directly so I didn't waste 2 hours of my time figuring out that you didn't know WTF you were talking about." Clearly, this shows that *I* know how I would resolve my issue, and they don't know how to do it themselves.

I worked inbound customer service for 8 years and I even taught call handling techniques courses. Whilst speaking with the 888-YOUR-CTA reps, I have heard people eating, belching, yelling at each other, laughing, and crude comments and nasty name-calling when they thought they were muted. Who in the world trains your customer service reps? You should find a better company. Hell, if the price is right, hire me. Of course, this means I will immediately fire approximately 80% of your operators who are beyond all hope.

Finally, the replies from the reps who handle the '[email protected]' email address are curt, insincere and contrite. Reading between the lines those replies say, "and what are you gonna do about it, lady?" At its simplest level, I am a consumer who pays for this service and I absolutely HATE being treated that way. It costs nothing to be polite and courteous. Why is it so difficult to come across a CTA employee who seems like he or she takes his or her job seriously, cares about it, and knows it's important to not stand there like a cretin and ignore people all day? I'm a normal person with normal expectations and I cannot fathom why in the world I haven't had one positive interaction with a CTA employee in the 4+ years I've lived here.

/soapbox

A brief question:

Regarding the next alternative analysis meetings, the web site says they'll be in "fall 2008." Anything more specific?

The Wilson, Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr stops have all been improved, but the signs said all work would be complete by April 2008. Work still continues, but when can we expect it to be complete? Argyle in particular seems badly damaged (although the new canopies are nice) with old rags stuffed in the hole in the wall near the entrance to presumably block further water damage. Also, will the Lawrence stop ever receive a new station or will it always remain a temporary chain link fence structure?

I'll echo the previous queries regarding the next upcoming large-scale projects under consideration by the CTA. Generally speaking, it's my contention that any significant expansion of service should be focused on rail, rather than bus, for a myriad of reasons that are likely apparent to those reading this blog. I'm curious if the CTA feels similarly.

In addition, I'm wondering if the CTA is hoping for one presidential candidate over the other - strictly from a perspective of which one will be more transit-friendly (read: more federal $$$ for mass transit).

Erin, you are so right about customer service attitudes. They should abolish the whole department and figure out a way to run all ideas directly from the public to various operational areas so that they will actually get listened to. I don't particularly need a response or even a commitment, just the knowledge that it will get on the radar of someone who may actually consider it.

Last time I e-mailed these, ah, people with a problem and a specific, easily doable suggestion, the responder explained why the CTA had no intention of doing things any differently. Like many customer service departments everywhere, that is what they consider to be their mission. The attitude was that their reasons and goals were what count, and modifying anything so that customer concerns could be remedied is of absolutely zero importance. Passing anything along to managers is not to be expected, needless to say. Management apparently handed down a directive that under no circumstances are managers to be bothered with what's on the customers' minds.

By the way, my complaint about attendants in a certain station forcing everyone to listen to their loud whistling every morning (such bad manners) was pointedly ignored.

What's the ETA on the auxiliary exit to Polk for the Harrison Red Line stop?

Have you been to Barcelona, a former site of the Summer Olympics? They have the most wonderful, clean, efficient, ergonomic subway/train system. If we want to attract the Olympics a system such as Barcelona would be what we should aim for. They have a modern sensibility in each train car that makes even standing a pleasure due to ergonomic features.

Also I just HATE the scratchy fabric seats...I wish they could just be plastic. I can't imagine how dirty they must be! Go to Barcelona and ride the rails..then bring that home and it will be a huge feather in Chicago's Olympic hopeful cap and a wonderful way to travel for us Chicagoans!

Hey, Kevin B., thanks for the update on the Washington stop. I obviously missed the memo on that one! I was walking to work after posting that and thinking that surely I must have heard something in all this time but I just couldn't remember anything. Maybe I blocked it out. =) Oh well.

I'll throw in with those asking about near-south Green Line stops, too. It always feels a little weird to zip from 35th all the way to Roosevelt. And Cermak, at least, seems like it would be a logical stopping point -- or if not there, since it's close to the Red Line, then a couple blocks north of there? I was looking in that general area for apartments a while ago and the lack of easily walkable L access was a definite drawback (nothing against the 3 bus, or even the 29 or anything else in that general area, but... sometimes you just want to get to the airport without 87 transfers while dragging your suitcase around, you know?). But, I suppose that's a pretty unnecessary request... I still would settle for a couple stations I use regularly to get power-washed!

First, I would like to ask how often the temperature control systems are checked on buses. I cannot count how many time I have been stuck on a bus in hot weather with the windows sealed shut and no air conditioning, with the emergency roof exit propped open as the only ventilation. This is a health hazard, plain and simple, and buses in this condition should not be allowed to run. What gives?

Also, I can reiterate the experiences listed above where drivers text message while driving. I had the life scared out of me while heavily pregnant last year, I was riding a bus to work and the driver ran a red light because he was texting and playing games on his phone. I asked him to stop and told him he was scaring me, and he yelled, "I'm scaring you?!". Obviously, I got off at the next stop, and reported it via cta e-mail as soon as I got to work. It was never responded to. Other reports I've given received the same curt, non-helpful treatment described by another poster, both by phone and e-mail.

All of that being said, there are some truly great bus drivers who are helpful, skilled, and very child/elderly/handicapped friendly, too. They should be rewarded for their terrific service. So my last question is- if I write or call about great service, will that be ignored, too?

Ron, is there any possible way you could waste more taxpayer dollars on the Block 37 mess? Or could you at least get our crook Mayor to give us some straight answers on why we needed Block 37 in the first place?

I read there was a hearing to extend the Midway Orange Line to Ford City Mall, which was part of the line's original plan. I would appreciate any information you can relay from that hearing.

I pay $42 monthly for a reserved parking permit at the Orange Line's Archer/Pulaski stop -- plus the $2 daily parking fee. While I appreciate the opportunity to have a reserved space, I do not appreciate the broken glass that is not cleaned up within a satisfactory timeframe -- i.e., more than one week at times. I know that the permit parking and the daily parking are outsourced and managed by their respective companies. However, I believe a CTA employee should be given the responsibility to inspect the lot at least twice per week and to report any broken glass or other debris to that company that prohibits any paying customer from parking in a legitimate parking space.

And I apologize if this was already stated above and I did not see it: I would appreciate the CTA using the loudspeakers to update the commuters on delayed trains -- especially in emergency situations -- as often as needed. I'd rather hear the same announcement 3 times than not at all.

There used to be a Cermak stop on what is now the Green Line, but what was then the Jackson park line. It was a B stop. The CTA said it wasn't necessary anymore because of the Cermak/Dan Ryan station.
It's maybe 20 years since they closed & demolished it.
And there was a Grand/Franklin stop on the Ravenswood that was removed around 30 years ago.
The same for the Isabella station on the Evanston line, the only evidence of that one is seen in the opening credits of the first season of 'The Bob Newhart Show'. Bob got off his train at Isabella & then walked to his apartment at Thorndale Beach, a distance of over 7 miles.

"What are the chances that CTA might implement a truly representative riders' advisory board to solicit public input? CTA has an obvious problem with public perception and this might help a tiny little bit."

Martha,

It sort of seems to me that this is what the "coffee with Ron" meetings are. I don't think that it was a coincidence that the first one of these occured shortly after that rather silly exchange on Carole's blog. By the way, I don't really think the Citisens Advisory Board is really meant, nor claims to be, representative of the public. I think it's purpose is to consult with leaders of business, government, activist and other groups. That seems perfectly fine to me.

According to the Uptown Update, a pretty reliable source, the crumbling Majestic Building at Broadway and Leland is owned by the CTA, which refused to sell it to the developer who did such a great job of rehabbing the nearby Uptown Broadway Building. Ask Ron if this is true, and, if true, the reason why the CTA owns but won't maintain or sell the building.

I want to know WHY the buses still have the horrible bunching problems. You wait over a half hour and two buses come together. Or you wait over a half hour and the buses are so packed you can't get on them. (adding insult to injury)

I have never waited for a 36 Broadway bus northbound between Diversey and Grace where I didn't wait a long time and get 2 buses together. This has been happening for YEARS.

Why are the driver switching locations at Foster/Sheridan and Broadway/Foster? Both are busy intersections and not set up for this task AT ALL.

Speaking of that - the ONLY TIME the drivers of the buses drive quickly is when they are GETTIN OFF OF SHIFT themselves. Who cares If I get to work on time but they sure do care if they get off their shift. I have seen them even skip stops and people when getting off their shifts.

The employees have no customer service training or experience. They are disrescpectful of the public and act like they don't care about their jobs. It's depressing.

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