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226 buses off the road for inspection -- now what?

You probably heard that the CTA pulled 226 60-foot-long articulated buses off the road for inspection after finding a crack in the chassis of one.

Well, good for the CTA for its quick action. It has reported previous problems with these particular buses, and in fact had stopped payment on an order with them and sued the manufacturer, North American Bus Industries.

But what does that mean for us riders? The buses make up about 6% of the total fleet. The routes most affected are:

  • No. 6 Jackson Park Express
  • No. 14 Jeffery Express
  • No. 134 Stockton/LaSalle Express
  • No. 135 Clarendon/LaSalle Express
  • No. 136 Sheridan/LaSalle Express
  • No. 145 Wilson/Michigan Express
  • No. 146 Inner Drive/Michigan Express
  • No. 147 Outer Drive Express
  • No. 156 LaSalle

More than half of these routes are on bus tracker. But with so many fewer buses, good luck trying to board tem closer to the Loop. Certainly all you lakefront riders will be looking for alternatives as the CTA inspects and certifies these buses as safe.

The CTA promises to put more train cars on lines covering these areas. We'll hope the inspections are fast, thorough and find no more defective buses.

Comments

...

There *are* no train lines along the #6 route, at least on the South Side. Getting out of Hyde Park is about to suck a lot more.

By the way, completely off-topic, but from the Olympic thread where the CTA talked of one extra station then they had, it was probably the new Morgan Green/Pink line stop or the downtown skokie stop (which construction has started for, yippi)

The morning lakefront commuters should not really be affected, they don't use that many of the old clunkers, if any at all.

Actually, I misread. I thought it was a different bus.

They had CTA workers stationed along the 134 route this morning. Unfortunately that didn't prevent the short buses from being full only 4 stops into the route. That was at 7:15am, so I can only imagine how much worse it got.

Rode in on the 156 this morning and got on the bus just south of Diversey. It was a one of the smaller New Flyer buses and was completely packed. It made very few stops until the Loop. The operator said that it was the old articulated buses that were held in. These buses still make up many of the runs on 156 and 134 routes. I am sure it will be a fun filled day on these routes and as stated in the story good luck getting on if you live nearer to the loop.

In fact there is a train line on the #6 (and #14) route - the Metra Electric. Even tho it's configured for rapid transit service, Metra runs it as commuter rail - which is what requires so many CTA buses to duplicate the service. There's a growing grassroots campaign, known as the Gold Line campaign, to force Metra to run trains every 10 minutes on the South Chicago branch and accept CTA transfers. We appreciate all the support we can get, so that folks on the South Side have the same options most people on the North Side take for granted.

I've never been on an articulated bus on the 136 unless I'm majorly missing something there.

Not the IC as EL BS again, it won't work; the headways required would create traffic gridlock in South Shore with the trains constantly blocking streets - not to mention all the infrastructure (i.e. turnstyles) which would have to be rebuilt, which ain't happening in this economy.

Does any other city that uses these buses have the same problems?

Or is the problem limited to Chicago due to the wretched condition of our streets, due to the insane overuse of salt, which causes the streets to break up?

And add to that, the general incompetence of Streets & San which hasn't the faintest idea of how to properly patch a street!
They take a pothole & turn it into a bump!

Monday afternoon I was on a NABI that was shaking, rattling and rolling more than your average NABI. I now wonder if that's the bus that cracked. After riding two of the New Flyer hybrids earlier in the day (one of them brand spanking new), getting on a crappy old NABI was a shock. They're an accident waiting to happen. Every time I'm on one I wonder how long it will be before someone is seriously injured. At the same time, I feel the pain of lakefront commuters. I cannot even fathom how horribly crowded the routes were this morning.

Bway,

I think you are missing something. I ride the 136 everyday and often ride on articulated buses. This also includes the new hybrid articulated buses as well.

I didn't notice any lag in 136 buses this morning on the 136 going to work. I usually catch it after 8, which they said is less likely to be affected (according to their press release).

What does their the NABI 12 year warranty get us? Does it get us a new bus, our money back, a replacement of the same model? They've complained about these before, so it must have been serious if they decided to pull them all of the road.

So actually the CTA is the only transit authority to purchase these buses from NABI. Go figure.

http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/North-American-Bus-Industries

"the headways required would create traffic gridlock in South Shore with the trains constantly blocking streets"

It works fine at the end of the Brown Line. And the aldermen of these neighborhoods disagree with you - both Hairston and Jackson (South Shore and South Chicago) have signed on to the plan.

"not to mention all the infrastructure (i.e. turnstyles) which would have to be rebuilt, which ain't happening in this economy. "

Have you not been following the news? Billions of dollars in transit capital funding is about to start flowing - first the stimulus plan, then the state capital bill, then the federal transportation spending reauthorization. And the capital costs would be quite small compared to similar service improvements like the Douglas Blue Line (Pink Line) and Brown Line renovations.

Apparently the CTA is the only transit organization that bought these 60' articulated buses from NABI. Go figure

http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/North-American-Bus-Industries

If you're worried about Metra trains clogging up South Shore, keep in mind that that's just one branch. Most trains head south to Blue Island or University Park along dedicated tracks. And there used to be turnstiles in the Metra Electric stations until about 2000, so that isn't as big a problem as you might think it is.

But for the next few days, at least, Metra Electric service would be a good stand-in for riders of buses 6 and 14. A 10-ride pass between Hyde Park or South Shore and downtown is just $20, meaning cash fare is the same as CTA.

The gray line has become the gold line, Jake?

I think Gold is better for marketting purposes.

Obviously you don't get up north much - or anywhere else with heavy traffic and frequent trains; There are MANY MANY more level crossings in South Shore than at the end of the brown line and if you had ten (which would then mean most trains were South Chicago, not U Park or BI trains) minute headways Jeffrey, 71st and Stony would be blocked constantly at rush hour. It's just not realistic to have mass transit there, whether you

Anyways, I wouldn't count on your aldermen doing much; Sandy's an idiot (ask anyone who's had to interview her) and Leslie doesn't have that much pull being somewhat independent.

So where is this money for transit improvements? I don't believe this pet project is on that list, and certainly isn't "shovel ready" by any means - not by a long shot.

Ooops, left out a sentence. It's just not realistic to have mass transit there, whether you like it or not.

I thought the CTA didn't buy buses? Doesn't it lease them from some shell company? Or is that fiction being ignored here?

[It's just not realistic to have mass transit there, whether you like it or not.]

I have no opinion on the Gray/Gold line in particular, but god forbid we ever build new mass transit corridors at the expense of auto traffic.

I visited the link JC posted the learn the history of the fabulous NABI. One of the more interesting facts, in addition to the fact that CTA is the only transit agency (stupid enough?) to have purchased the 60 foot model, is that a NABI was featured in the movie "Stranger than Fiction." That would be a great title for a documentary about CTA.

Why do I have time to waste to learn the history of the NABI? Because the CPS computer system is down citywide. So, RonH, if you're still stopping by to check out the Flickr feed, please be aware that the organization you now lead has come to a grinding halt because the crapass lowball-bid computer system doesn't work, never has, never will. It's the NABI of student information systems.

While CTA was the only one to purchase the 60LFW, Los Angeles has purchased the 60BRT. Reports appearing on chicagobus.org indicate that LA's might not be any better, with regard to the articulation.

Hence, what you people copied from Wikipedia clones means little.

The real questions are (1) why did CTA exercise all the options before Altoona testing was completed, and (2) why did CTA continue accepting buses in 2005 after it knew about the problems, even though there were holdbacks on the payments?

I mentioned before some of Frank Kruesi's legacy and how this one would come back to bite Huberman's successor in the bum. Apparently it happened a little quicker than I thought.

I was just looking out a window in my office building and saw a CTA bus with a VIDEO AD on the side that switched between Oreos and The Watchmen. Not sure what bus line, but it was driving downtown, west along Adams. I have never seen these before. When did this start??

". . .the insane overuse of salt. . ."

Seriously! I thought it was just me who noticed this! I have never lived anywhere that uses this much salt!!

[I don't believe this pet project is on that list, and certainly isn't "shovel ready" by any means - not by a long shot]
This is more than shovel ready...the infrastructure is already there. The only thing that needs to be done is to integrate the fare system with CTA, which would mean closing off the stations and putting in turnstiles, big whoop.

[It's just not realistic to have mass transit there]

Why, because YOU don't want it? The density of these neighborhoods certainly warrant mass transit, especially the TODs near 71st. Heck you could even run a 71st/63rd LRT line utilizing the rails in place on 71st. In my opinion this should be the highest priority project because it's so easy to do.

I never ride in the back of one of those buses if I can help it since given the what we all know about the CTA, one day ones going to split apart on LSD--throwing "rear riders" into the median planters and on coming traffic. At least they took action before it happened(s)

erikagwen:
Not only does salt destroy the streets by causing brine to seep into cracks in the street, but rarely taken into effect are the other costs associated with salt.
Bridges rust out, street lights & all other street furniture are corroded & rust away.
Cars & trucks rust away.
And CTA buses, which are overloaded, are both beaten to death by these broken up streets & their frames either corrode away, if aluminum or rust away if steel, which makes frame breaks even more likely.

We need an economist to figure out the true costs of salt here!

taking account of all externalities, the cost of road salt over a year is high, but perhaps not as high as the true social cost of under salted roads. I agree though, less is more in this case

It sure didn't take long for the "in the know" posters to this blog to lay the NABI mess at Frank Kruesi's feet. Unfortunately for the Kruesi-bashers, the story is (as always) more complicated than that.

The NABI artics were procured to replace MAN artics dating to early 1980's. That procurement was put in motion before Kruesi even started at CTA. NABI won because the procurement method used by the pre-Kruesi CTA required it to accept the lowest bid. Kruesi's hands were tied, everything took a lot longer than it should have, and NABI proved to be a total disaster in many, many ways.

But Kruesi quickly forced CTA's procurement to change their ways and all subsequent bus orders have been on a "value" basis rather than lowest price bid. Notice how much better the NOVA and New Flyer buses are? That is Kruesi's legacy, not NABI.

But go ahead and keep bashing Frank without knowing what your talking about. It's cathartic for you, I'm sure.

I don't think there is an insane overuse of salt. For anyone who does, I'd suggest spending a winter in Portland, OR where the entire city was essentially shut-down over two back-to-back "storms" that most Chicagoans wouldn't have even blinked at.

Seriously. We wouldn't have even left for work early, nor would we have been late to work over something as small as these weather events. Yet the entire region essentially shut-down for a week. And people kept chains on their tires for nearly three days after that, too.

You want to talk about road damage, let's talk about what chains do to roads!

But all that aside, there were a multitude of issues that may have played a big role in this whole issue.

1. NABI has made some nice buses, but they weren't very experienced with articulateds. This lack of experience may have lead to under-engineering.

2. Low-floor buses are a great design for accessability. Not just for the mobility challenged, but for all passengers. Heavy loads can be loaded and unloaded quicker when people don't have to climb steps. BUT there's a reason why traditional buses were made high-floored in the past. It wasn't because someone thought it would be a good idea to make everyone climb. Low-floor buses are inherently less structurally sound than a comperable high-floor bus.

3. CTA has had operating funds issues for a long, long time. Normal maintenance comes out of operating funds. Choices had to be made on how to spend that money, so when interior cleaning becomes a higher priority, there's not as much money for other maintenance projects. We all cheered about how much cleaner the fleet was getting. That didn't happen with a new source of revenue. That happened by shifting funds away from other maintenance functions.

4. Despite apparently knowing of issues from the begining, there was not sufficient ongoing inspections. I can say this with certainty because a bus doesn't just break in half overnight. (Well, the alternative is they were inspecting, but they were ignoring problems found.)

Essentially, there's no way this should have become an out-of-control problem overnight. If a significant number of those buses aren't suitable for service tomorrow, they weren't suitable for service last month, or three months ago, or likely even six months ago.

Design flaw or not, if there is a problem, then CTA management SHOULD HAVE SEEN IT COMING, and prepared for it.

There have been internal rumblings from would-be whistle blowers of problems like this for many, many months. But they were all dismissed as being rants of disgruntled employees.

What we have is an issue that the Huberman administration should have been aware of, and should have been dealing with. Instead, it was swept under the carpet with the expectation that it wouldn't blow-up until Ron got the heck out of the way.

And even though Huberman should have been dealing with the issue, but wasn't dealing with the issue, some folks still are able to reach further back and blame Kruesi. Well, Kruesi was stuck with the buses, and they didn't fall apart under (or shortly after) his watch.

Even if poor maintenance going back to the Kruesi era was part of the problem, that problem wasn't fixed during Huberman's tenure. He had plenty of time to solve this problem, but instead chose to do a better job of cleaning bubble gum off the floors.

The warning signs were there. The whistle blowers were ignored. And now here we are.

Nice work.

Jocelyn: from http://www.ctatattler.com/2008/04/digital-signs-a.html "Digital ads will also be displayed on the curb side of 100 buses."

They've been talking about this for awhile, the ads are supposed to be location aware (so you get ads saying 'Good times at Bob's Diner! Just one block north!'), havn't seen them myself

Rusty, you're comparing apples & oranges in this salt debate.
Just compare Chicago's insane overuse of salt to any suburb's use of salt.
No suburb has black asphalt streets that are white weeks after the snow is gone.
No suburb has streets that are as broken up as Chicago.
As soon as you cross the city limits, the streets are smoother.
Stand on any major street in the city & watch a plow go by & salt the street.
Followed two minutes later by another plow doing the same thing!
Ad infinitum!
No suburb wastes salt like Chicago, Hell, no other city in the world wastes salt like Chicago.
I live near a Chicago salt storage facility. There is always a huge pile of salt on the street just outside it as the overfilled salt trucks exit & bounce off fifty or so pounds every time they leave.

So what if chains grind up the streets. At least chains don't cause bridges to rust out & need replacement decades before the end of their lifespans.
Chains don't cause streetlights to fall over either!
Why is it that most of the viaducts over the Dan Ryan were replaced in the last five years, but viaducts in the suburbs are still in use?
Salt is why!
North Lake Shore Dr. was a wreck last year, a temporary paving job was done & it's failing already.
Again, salt did it.

I'm not saying totally eliminate salt, it's the best thing for ice, but just cut the usage back to the rate the suburbs use.

[Stand on any major street in the city & watch a plow go by & salt the street.
Followed two minutes later by another plow doing the same thing!]

I will say that I've seen this, too. I can only speak to my own experiences, but it's not unusual to see a truck come by dumping salt on a street that already is sufficiently salted.

When Rusty says, "There have been internal rumblings from would-be whistle blowers" what's he refering to? seriously? Rusty? seriously? you may be right, but what exactly are your referring to?

everything I ever heard was that there were engine problems--a problem, to be sure, but never a safety problem.

As I said once in a post before--this is what we get for a crappy bus manufacturing industry, which results from our pathetic support of mass transit, particularly bus transit.

Last year on the 147 those buses were rough riding them, especially before the potholes on Lake Shore Drive were fixed. When the bus hit the potholes, inertia made the passengers literally fly up out of their seat a couple inches. And the horrible BAM when the wheels hit the potholes actually hurt your bones because it was terribly jarring. Anyone riding the #147 at rush hour can attest to this. I have not taken that in a year, so i dont know what the situation is now.

My worst scenario on that accordian bus was when I was sitting in the very last seat, i was squished up next to the window, it was one of those huge windows.. We hit a bump and the window flew open, since the bottom of the window is at leg level, I could easily have fallen out on Lake Shore Drive. If you ever sit there next to the window, dont lean against it, because if it flys open, you are going to land on Lake shore Drive.

Simple: Your chronology is ALL WRONG.
The Novas were acquired in 2000-2002.

The NABIs were acquired in 2003-2005.

Frank Kreusi became President about 1998.

If you don't believe me, look at this CTA Press Release about the Board awarding that contract, which quotes FRANK KRUESI:
http://www.transitchicago.com/news/default.aspx?Archive=y&pg=7&All=y&ArticleId=1703

The only thing you say that makes sense is that he might have been in a big hurry to get rid of the Seattle articulateds.

It is amazing that the Internet lets the uninformed post and impugn those who do have the information.

I'm from Michigan, so the overuse of salt in Chicago seems totally normal to me.

Wrong again, jack. Although I do have to agree that it is amazing how the internet convinces people that they know more than they really do.

The cta board does not award a contract until after it has been advertised, bid, and negotiated. The procurement that led to the NABI contract award started before the one that led to the NOVA bus award, but the negotiation process dragged out for years with NABI, which is how the NOVA procurement ended up getting awarded (and delivered) sooner.

We're using the Gold Line name because the proposal is substantially different from the Gray Line idea - we're asking for rapid transit service only on the South Chicago branch, which serves the densest neighborhoods, and we're agnostic about who should operate the line - and to highlight its connections to the Olympics, since the line would connect many Olympic venues and the Olympic Village.

"where is this money for transit improvements? I don't believe this pet project is on that list, and certainly isn't "shovel ready" by any means"

No, it's not on the immediate priorities list, but I'm optimistic that the backlog of projects we've had for the last decade or more will be taken care of relatively soon, clearing the way for projects like the Gold Line. What we're asking for right now is just a feasibility study to explore various options and come up with a figure for the investment needed.

Simple: If you have any proof of that, post it. CTA archives its press releases and contract awards.

If we believe you, then CTA was apparently sitting on this contract for five years. And was lying in its press release when it said it was the SECOND use of the Standard Bus Procurement Guidelines, the Novas being the first. While CTA has credibility problems, yours seem worse.

hence why we should all cite our sources.

Jack,

Do you know how to read? Simple did not say that the contract was awarded five years before they announced it. And you also apparently misinterpreted his earlier post as well. He wasn't arguing that the buses were aquired pre-Kruisi. He stated that there was a flawed decision making process that was put into place before Kruesi and his hands were tied and had to abide by it. If you cannot even comprehend what another poster is saying than you probably shouldn't be commenting. Obviously, I'm not a CTA insider so I don't know if Simple is correct that Kruesi should receive very little, if any, blame for this. I'm actually pretty skeptical that is the case (even if everything he said about the timeline is correct). But it is unfortunate that instead of analyzing what Simple is saying and perhaps arguing with some flaws in his conclusions you cannot even take the time to understand his post. And then you attack him personally while stating he said things that he didn't.

And oh, every negotiating step of every CTA contract is not announced in a press release. I find it rather sad that you somehow think that the lack of press releases supports your position. You do realize that there are hundreds, I'm sure, of discussions and decisions made every day in the CTA management ranks. Only a tiny fraction are announced in a press release.

[No suburb has streets that are as broken up as Chicago.
As soon as you cross the city limits, the streets are smoother.]

Ride on the section of Sheridan road sandwiched between calvary cemetery and the lake. Streets are rough in Evanston. As bad as Chicago is, Evanston isn't any better.

However, in December I decided to go for a short bike ride, and my bike was covered in salt. Bikes, which have an exposed drive train are especially vulnerable to the corrosive effects of salt. There is clearly an overuse of salt.

I hate the suburbs. More transit and less suburbs. Oh and Obama owes the CTA 200M.

Since you chose to answer for Simple, this is for you, MK.

1. THE ONLY RELEVANT DATE IS WHEN THE CONTRACT WAS AWARDED. Kruesi was the president then. That is reinforced by the fact that when the contract for the 1050 40 foot buses was advertised, NABI announced it was the apparent low bidder, but the RFP was pulled back for a year, readvertised, and New Flyer got the contract. Hence Kruesi knew how to pull back a requisition if he felt like doing so. But you and Simple are telling me that he couldn't do the same with an at least 5 year old one for the 7500s?

2. The Official CTA Press release said that this was the SECOND use of the Standard Bus Procurement Guidelines, the Novas being the first. So the Guidelines were used in both situations. That would indicate to me that the NABIs were ordered on the same guidelines, not a 5 year old spec.

3. The above was not just "something on the Internet" but an official CTA pronouncement. While I have doubted other things from the CTA PR Office, if you believe simple, Kruesi was covering up for Belcaster, who was forced out under the cloud of the Ballard Power scandal, or maybe Mosena. That wouldn't speak well for Kruesi.

4. It is definitely the case that Kruesi exercised all the options, even before bus one was delivered and before they passed mandatory federal testing. He didn't have to do that.

5. It was also the Kruesi administration that decided not to reject the buses, even though it held back payments in 2005.

So, MK, it isn't because I can't read. It is because I remember those events as they contemporaneously happened and do not accept something posted on a comment board on a blog that is not verifiable nor logical.

Finally, I think simple has the purchase of the 115 used Seattle articulateds confused with this order.

I still want to find out what Rusty knows, or thinks he knows, or heard?
"There have been internal rumblings from would-be whistle blowers of problems like this for many, many months. But they were all dismissed as being rants of disgruntled employees."
Are you knowledgable of a potential cover-up, or that CTA knew these were unsafe and still ran them? In what context or forum were employees begin referred to as "disgruntled employees?" It's quite a charge. Are you "internal" Rusty, yourself? How do you know these rumblings were going on?

While it's not an easy decision to put a potentially unsafe bus on the street, you have to figure it's not an easy decision to take them off either. There are lawsuits, either current or forethcoming, there are many parties involved, lawyers in the mix, including the financier of 80% of the bus--the Federal Government who has its own interests.

It's very possible that the current officials at CTA did their best to get some use out of a total lemon fleet, but it finally just came to end this week. They did the right, albeit muddling though, thing.

That's NOT excusing the previous CTA officials who let these pieces of junk get on the street in the first place. But you HAVE to include the Feds and all their regulations and the execs who created this b.s. company called NABI that just robbed the taxpayer and potentially, but luckily not, got someone hurt.

There is a story on CBS Chicago that seems like there was a whistleblower of sorts for the cracked bus. http://cbs2chicago.com/local/cta.rush.hour.2.939400.html

Apparently, this Acevedo guy sent CBS pics of the broken bus and the CTA responded in its normal PR BS way. Read it for yourselves. Perhaps this is what Rusty is talking about?

It ought to be fairly straightforward to upgrade Metra Electric to CTA levels of frequency. The authorities can take a trip over to London and see how they've done it on South side commuter services there (most lines south of the Thames are regular commuter rail but on 'el type frequency, and they all have turnstiles now).

This would be a good use of stimulus dollars and it would be a quick and efficient way of boosting service to an historically underserved part of our metro area. The main question mark of course is how much available equipment Metra has, because ordering new EMU's from scratch for a specific voltage takes time.

As for the NABI debacle, the predecessors to the NABI fleet which were also 60 foot articulated buses had fewer problems at age 22 than the NABI ones do now at age six. So, no, this isn't Chicago streets, much as I'd like to blame them - it is these buses of epic crappiness.

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