Main | Add your crazy commuting stories here »

What this is about

The Chicago Transit Authority is a behemoth of elevated trains, subways and myriad bus routes, touching every part of Chicago and many suburbs.

I ride the CTA's Red Line every day to work, my daughter rides it to school, and my wife uses it to run errands and for her work. The Red Line runs more than 20 miles north and south -- through rich neighborhoods such as Lincoln Park, poorer ones on the South Side, and right past Chicago's two baseball stadiums: Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field.

En route, we see the strangest things and hear some very interesting conversations -- many of them one-sides, thanks to the proliferation of cell phones.

This blog will document things seen and heard on the CTA.


When my three boys were small we came from Michigan to see a Cub game. We parked downtown and took the Red Line to Wrigley. The boys, 4, 6 and 8 were all blond (really cute if I may say so myself), wearing matching Carters outfits and carrying green Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles baseball gloves. I was feeling like we stood out a little among the usual commuter crowd.

Suddenly, Andrew, the oldest, screams, "Dad ... Look ... somebody wrote on that building in paint!!!"

Trying to play the proper parent, but also knowing that everyone in the car was now looking at me, I said, "Yes Andrew, that's bad. You should never write on a building with paint."

We only rode for another few seconds when he screamed again, "Dad ... Look ... there's garbage all over in the streets."

Again, the parent, with everyone watching, "That's right Andrew, you should never throw your garbage in the street."

It was at that moment that I vowed to myself to get my kids out of Michigan more often.

Was anyone on the train that was involved in a fatal accident in Evanston, IL at 8:00 PM on Saturday, March 19, 2005?

My brother was killed. Please contact me.

This morning, I got on and sat down in an empty “2-seater” with no one next to me. I’m a big guy, so it was nice to not have to immediately sit next to someone. But after several stops, the train began to fill up and I knew it was just a matter of time before I lost my seating independence. Sure enough, the doors opened and a group of four friends got on. The clues to their identities were quite apparent – casual clothes, bohemian attitudes, and most tellingly, all carried different assortments of art and drafting equipment. “Aha,” I thought, “I bet they’re getting off the same stop I am and heading for the art school I walk by every morning.” – a prediction that proved completely accurate. One of their group stepped forward and sat next to me. She was this apple-cheeked pixie who looked like a Hummel of herself; just as cute a little art student as one could wish for. She lugged the most equipment of them all, a veritable cornucopia of t-squares, bags, and portfolios. “Well this is all right,” I thought, “I can share a seat with her for a while.” Now let me be clear on this – I wasn’t planning on putting any moves on her, or even saying a word to her. My nose remained buried in my newspaper. But ladies and gentlemen of the jury, in light of some of the socially unacceptable, malodorous sorts I have shared auras with on public transportation over the years, I will happily share a seat with someone like her any day.

Or so I thought. Yeah, you could probably hear that “but” coming a mile away. This group of friends chattered non-stop, like barnyard animals in a Max Fleischer cartoon. After a minute, I detected the strong aroma of stale liquor breath on the prowl. Strong. Really strong. If-there-was-anything-in-my-stomach-make-me-barf strong. At about the same moment, the Hummel next to me said, “Oh my god, you guys, I can still taste liquor in my mouth.” The others quietly chuckled, none seeming the slightest bit surprised at her admission. This odor became the defining feature of the next 15 minutes, until we mercifully arrived in the Loop. Along the way, I was treated to an overview of the terms and phrases particular to this tribe: Repeated use of the word “totally.” From their mouths, it is no longer a 3-syllable word – more like 3 and a half. I believe all four of them used some form or other of the phrase, “f**king solid,” which I inferred from context is a sign of approval among their people. Also caught the clearly articulated term, “sh-nasty.” I’m still trying to winnow down a short list of possible translations. I’ll get back to you (any help with this or additional contributions to the lexicon of this dialect would be appreciated).

Now in all fairness, I am always happy to expand my cultural horizons and learn the customs and idioms of a society other than my own. But when my pillow is still a very near memory and my nostrils are being assaulted with the sloe gin slurry of someone else’s extended revelry, my ability to be culturally edified becomes rather compromised.

Well yeah, I could have gotten up, moved away, and stood for 15 minutes. Boy, the sacrifices I’ll make for the sake of my own inertia!

Waiting, waiting, for the bus
everyone is in a rush
45 minutes and more go by
and I'm left there wondering why
why there is no bus I see
Taxi Taxi come to me
Cause I really gotta pee
taxi taxi cost too much
all because there was no bus
waited waited I did too long
Damn CTA who caused this worng
Tomorrow will be the same old song!

Can someone please explain to me why CTA motor persons insist on yelling into the microphone (usually preceded by blowing into same)? Today October 6 on run #827 (Red Line) the driver was obviously upset by someone not leaping into the "first available door" and so felt obligated to yell at the top of his lungs the requisite instructions. Seems kind of silly when they have signs up asking the passengers to not yell into their cellulars. One set of rules for the CTA and another for the passengers.

It could be worse

From the BBC

'Commuter riot' leaves 20 injured

A riot triggered by the suspension of a train service has left more than 20 people injured in an Argentine suburb.

Passengers and masked demonstrators set fire to their train after being told it would not leave Haedo station, about 15km (nine miles) west of Buenos Aires.

Six police officers were among those injured during the five-hour rioting. More than 80 people were arrested.

The clashes come as the city prepares for the Americas summit, which will be attended by George Bush among others.

The Argentine authorities said they believed the incident had been instigated by members of the railway unions and leftist groups.


Violence broke out after officials of private rail company TBA announced to the nearly 2,000 travellers on board the train that it would not leave the station due to technical problems.

he passengers had already been held at Haedo station for about 50 minutes.

Witnesses said that the passengers got off the train and, joined by dozens of people wearing masks, began to hurl rocks at the train, breaking windows.

The masked demonstrators also set fire to several train carriages and a police vehicle. Nearby stores were destroyed by the flames.

Police officers used rubber bullets to contain the violence.

"This was planned, these were armed groups," said Interior Minister Anibal Fernandez.

Correspondents say the incident was one of the worst in the country since the street rioting seen during Argentina's economic collapse four years ago.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2005/11/02 12:57:13 GMT

Does anyone know anything or have a link to an article about ppl being randomly attacked on the El recently? I've been out of the city for a few months, but my fam keeps me updated, and I'm headed back in about 1.5 weeks...



I came across an interesting CTA related blog all of you commuters may like to know about. Im watching this one close! My wife and I ride the L every day and this is disturbing.

See for yourself

See anyone you know?

I am from Boston and know Chicago well. I really don't miss the #36 Broadway bus or for that matter the entire Red Line with the slow zones.

But as bad as the CTA is consider yourself lucky. Boston's MBTA can't do anything right.

A Boston blog

At least the CTA has computer announcements that sound human, decent rail cars etc.

im just curious if anyone thinks the handicapped accessible ramps from the CTA blue line to the Metra tracks at Jefferson Park are a bit extreme? This is part of the new renovation and the ramps take up an enormous amount of space. it is like one of those narrow town homes squeezed onto a bucktown subdivided lot. it has to be 1000 sq. feet of space. i think an elevator would have made more sense. seriously, i dont know if its the CTA or Metra who designed this but it is awful. It would take someone in a wheelchair alot of effort and time to wheel themselves up and around and around and around these ramps.

I just moved here and I have lived in DC and Boston. I was wondering if the "official" rules for riding the CTA are posted anywhere. I take the bus mostly and I know there are more signs at the train stations, but I can't find the "official" rule about eating and drinking on the train. I have seen people do it and I thought it was OK but I have been subsequently told that it is against the rules. The CTA website doesn't have a rules link, which the Washington metro does, and no eating or drinking is rule #1 on site. Thanks.

I can take just about anything on the trains but one thing: the damned talking on the cell phones. If I can read on a train I can be happy - I can withstand SBDs, sitting in the tunnel for half an hour, you name it. But I find it very hard to read when someone is bellowing in my ear. Really, I could sit next to a pool of vomit and tolerate it better than a damned inconsiderate cell phone user.

You have people whose voices carry from one end of the car to the other, people screeching and screaming and crying and fighting with the people on the other end of the line, and having to listen to the most stupid brainless conversations - I mean you are forced to listen to them because the people are bellowing their words - and they get pissed off or talk louder if you shoot them a dirty look or ask them nicely to lower their voices. You really shouldn't have to listen to that shit - it is the worst!

A couple of years ago, the funniest thing - a young woman talking to her friend about the venereal disease she gave her lover - we know her friend was telling her to use condoms or some kind of protection, and she kept giving excuses as to why she didn't like to use them. We were openly laughing at her and some guy actually said something to her along the line of "Typhoid Mary". The young woman was totally unconsious of her audience. This was a 147 bus that this occured on. And a little bit more than a year ago, listening to an attorney advise his client on a criminal charge on the Streeterville bus! This was a landlord trying to beat a rap filed by a tenant who was hurt in a stairway of the building he owned. The attorney named names, gave addresses - it was terrible - all of us sitting in his vicinity, our eyes were round -once he left the bus, we talked about how glad we were he wasn't our attorney. I actually googled some of the stuff this guy was talking about once I got to work and I could have hurt this guy's case! Simply frighteningly amazing.

I wish the CTA would take a more active and aggressive role in shutting these people up, or at least getting them to lower their voices. For many of us the ride into work is the most quiet part of our day that we use to center ourselves for the day's trials. It's terrible when that little bit of peace is taken away from us by an inconsiderate cell phone user!

If you are reading this and you are a cell phone user, please, ask a friend or a family member how you sound when you use your cell phone - they might surprise you and tell you your voice carries! I've noticed some people seem to be getting more considerate about how loud they are speaking on a train - a specific demographic. Someone must be getting through to them some how. I beg you again, PLEASE be considerate and give your fellow prisoners a break!

I was happy to see elsewhere on this web site someone else writing about the total lack of communication with the ticket booth operators and other personnel you see on the line. The same happened to me; I paid the fair and entered the tunnel and some kind person working on the tunnel tracks told me there wasn't going to be a Red Line train for the rest of the night. Of course, I walked within three feet of two personnel in the ticket booth and others hovering nearby - NONE of those people said a damned word and they knew damned well were I was going! This infuriates me!

What's more, something like 95% of them are hostile, nasty know-nothings; I thought of trying to get my fare refunded but the thought of having to deal with one of those snarling jerks (indifferent if you are lucky) just dampened my spirit. Why are they so hostile?

More than once I couldn't understand what the personnel said and they got mad at me when I asked them to repeat themselves for the 3rd time - sorry, can't understand you! Nasty nasty nasty.

CTA, do you read this blog? I've heard these people get a decent salary for this job - you mean to tell me you can't hire someone and require them to be courteous when dealing with the public and able to speak the English language?

Another thing - so many of them DONT' KNOW THE ROUTES. You are taking a big chance if you have to get somewhere in a hurry and you have to ask one of them for directions, but most of them don't even fake it, they just say, "I don't know". They should have that emblazoned on their workshirts. I don't know. When you work in the produce section of a grocery store, every week the manager will come out with a tray of produce and ask you to identify them. This is how you learn your trade, and it is a requirement. Why can't you do something like that with these employees, especially if they are in a position that requires them to deal with the public?

The worst thing though, is the rudeness. There have been times when I was having a very bad day and the rudeness of the CTA employee was the last knife of the day, slid between my ribs with the others. For some reason getting this nasty behavior from them can really mess up my day, maybe because there is no getting around them. But it's crummy, and it sure would be nice to talk to an employee with manners one day. There are nice ones here and there, but for the most part they are rare.

God bless the United States of America and the American people. Our country needs a leader who can unite Americans in order to move the country foward in the right direction in the 21st century. Only one person has been able to generate excitement by bring large flocks of new voters into the political process, and energizing people accross a wide political spectrum. That person is Barack Obama. Turning down the wealth of Wall Street to serve the most disadvantage people on the street of Chicago, he has answered the call to public service.

Please pray for our leader.



I wanted to know if anyone was riding the redline CTA train going northbound (Chicago Ave. stop) on Friday at about 7pm? My son's foot got caught in the gap between the train and the platform and with assistance from other passengers holding the door, I quickly got his foot free before the conductor tried to pull off. i am filing a big complaint because the conductors should be more proactive in looking outside the train to make sure it is clear to close doors before pulling off.

There are no conductors. There are only motormen.

"I quickly got his foot free before the conductor tried to pull off. i am filing a big complaint because the conductors should be more proactive in looking outside the train to make sure it is clear to close doors before pulling off."

I'm confused. You seem to be saying that the train did not move until after your son's foot was safely inside the train. So how in the world would you know that the train would have pulled off? As far as I know, there is a safety mechanism that prevents the train from moving if all the doors are not completely closed (although it isn't foolproof as I did once see a train move when someone had a purse stuck in the door). Furthermore, there is an emergency brake button directly at the door. All anyone had to do if the train started moving was pull it. From the way you tell the story, there wasn't any reasonable possibility that there would have been any chance of any danger. It is not feasable for the motorman to delay the train at each stop in order to carefully look at all the doors. There is such a thing as personal responsibility.

By the way, this is not the correct thread to have posted that story. Posting this here provides even more evidence that you quickly come to incorrect conclusions.

Anyone seen the 2008 acturial evaluation for the CTA Pension Plan? It's almost a month overdue on the CTA website, based on prior, recent editions.


My name is Carlos Ardila. I am Columbia college student and I am currently researching for an article about the cta.
My premise is that there seems to be a lingering negative perception in the city and the country at large that public transportation is meant for poorer classes.
This perception, although not the primary reason, might have to do with the lack of funding for this system.
I am looking for anyone that might want to contribute to the article or maybe hear your thoughts on this.
Hit me up if you want.

my email is

Given that the complaint voicemail box for the CTA always seems to be full, I have a feeling that my email to them is not really going to be read. But I've seen that they do pay attention to what is said on this blog, so I'm putting a copy of my letter up in hopes that someone sees and cares:

"I am accustomed to great service from the CTA. The bus drivers in particular tend to be kind, friendly, and helpful. Well done!

"HOWEVER, tonight, I tried to use my Chicago Card Plus to pay for my daughter's fare on the 72 North Avenue bus number 1308. The driver, number 43175, said I had zero balance (according to the website, I have $22.75 on my card). I asked him politely to please let me try again. He swore at me repeatedly, and refused to do so, embarrassing me loudly in front of my daughter and the entire bus for what was clearly a problem with your system and holding up the rain-soaked customers in line behind me. Perhaps there was a better way for him to handle this?

"I know people have bad days, and I certainly hope that whatever your driver is going through, he gets the counseling and help he needs, rather than making the CTA look like horrible morons and refusing paying customers."

How does one apply for "commuter transit benefit"? Please post answer here. Thanks.

Happy weekend.

We recently talked about the various fare and parking increases and how it affects the commuters, both from the city and the burbs.

So, I am wondering - I had previously said that the CTA had priced themselves out of the parking business - particularly in Skokie where alternatives exist.

I have been looking at the lots: the South lot controlled by the CTA where the rates went from $2/24 hours to $4/12 hours, and the North lot, controlled by the Village of Skokie, where it went from $1.75 to $2.

That north lot is now fuller than I have ever seen it in my 7 years here; they have even created additional monthly permit spots, when in the past, the existing permit spots were never even fully used.

The south lot, on the other hand looks deserted by comparison; I know the parts of that lot I used to park in, given my arrival time, and I can say will all certainty that there were at least 50-80 fewer cars in that lot at that time this past week. I discussed this with a few others at the station - who agree that when the weather warms, its likely that even more people will be willing to walk the additiona distance and either move to the north lot, street park, or even walk.

Do we know if there are any figures available from the CTA or the Village (who collects the parking fees for both lots), to really evaluate this? Are other lots (Harlem, Cumberland, etc.) seeing similar drop offs? Oh - and don't get me started on the fact the the machines to dispense the now required parking tokens took an extra week to put in service. Each day people would come with big bills expecting to buy tokens, but needing small ones to pay cash, with no indication as to when the machines would be in service. The posted signs just implied an "Any Day Now" scenario.

I think there's also a racist element here. You see black and Latino Angels arresting a white dude. It seems to me, white folks will defend their own kind, even if they're criminals against those scarey rough blacks and Latinos. I imagine if the Angels were all white and the tagger was black, the white people would be all applauding saying, "Hey now, by golly, that black man could have murdered those Angels and probably was on PCP and crack." Yeah, you feel so sorry for that poor white tagger, it's this cultural repression of his heritage and the black man being in charge that forced him to express his repressed identity through vandalizing public property. He needs Prozac and therapy not arrest! By golly, save our young white men from the ethnic Angels! This young white man is our Rodney King. Let us riot by burning down all the Starbucks that have exploited our culture's caffeine dependency for all these years! Our loss of cultural hegemony is due to the sinister caffeinating of young white men! The new ethnic oligarchs are keeping us down by not allowing us to tag!!!!

I was just wondering does the CTA monitor bus driver's skill and customer service of their drivers on a regular basis?

There are good drivers, ok drivers and just bad drivers!

Does anyone else feel like me? I've been needlessly bounced and knocked around around needlessly too many times as a passenger on a bus driven by a driver who thinks they're pushing the pedal to the metal in a red Corvette! (I'm not talking about braking to avoid an accident)

I had a meeting downtown and was taking the redline at about 1pm.
Of course, on the Jackson platform, there was a spray of dried diarrhea.
when I got on the train, I sat next to a girl who was reading a book about
mathmatics. boring and safe enough, i thought.
Until she started picking out her blackheads and flicking them at the window.
not to be rivaled with the time a few months ago when there was a grown woman on the train
with no kids in sight, sucking on a pacifier.
it popped out of her mouth at one point and rolled onto the traincar floor.
she promptly picked it up, blew on it, and stuck it right back in her mouth.
Thank you, CTA, for exposing me to people and scenarios I wouldnt cross normally.

This is my first time lapse project, which took me 6 months to shoot all around the City of Chicago (from January to June 2013).
This is a tribute to the time I spent as an exchange student (from Milan) in Chicago, "My home away from home", which were probably the best months of my life. I spent every day walking around the city, looking for the most beautiful places, and trying to sneak up to the top of as many skyscrapers as I could. I did everything I could to try and get the best shot, which was always an adventure!
I tried to capture, in about 4 minutes, the magnificent architecture of this city, its amazing urban spaces, the power of its public transport network, and the vibrancy of all its people. Ultimately, I am trying to convey to those who will watch this video, just some of the experiences and emotions that I had during the best months of my life.

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear on this weblog until the author has approved them.

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In.

Share news tips